For those who care about their health there are many things to keep on top of. Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, looking after your mental health… the list goes on. However, no matter how vigilant you think you are when it comes to your health, you may be overlooking one very serious thing which could be making you sick: the indoor air in your workplace.
It’s a scary thought: the very air we breathe may be dangerous. What’s more, when it comes to our workplace, somewhere that most of us spend 40 or more hours in a week, this is pretty concerning. Unfortunately, the truth is that indoor air can carry many elements which could be harmful to your health.
The good news, however, is that this doesn’t need to be the case. Let’s look at the factors in your indoor workplace air that could make you or your colleagues sick, and what can be done to avoid this from happening.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality is a vital element in every workplace, but unfortunately it is something which is rarely considered and often overlooked in most workplaces. This term refers to the quality of the air in and around buildings, and is measured in terms of the concentration of contaminants, pollutants and other harmful elements found in the air. It is important because the air we breathe all day can affect our health. This is not just short-term health effects such as the transmission of communicable diseases, but it can also have serious health effects in the long-term.
How could the indoor air in my office be making me sick?
There are a large number of harmful contaminant which could potentially be in any indoor air supply. These include mould, airborne chemicals, construction dust, pesticides and even asbestos. Lack of ventilation, though not a specific contaminant, is also a risk. These are particular hazardous because the air is circulated regularly through offices and other indoor workplaces, meaning that workers are exposed to the same elements over and over again, and that bacteria and viruses can be passed between people in the same air system even if they do not come into direct contact.
Poor air quality can lead to the transmission of infections such as cold and flu within indoor workplace environments. It can also lead to more severe conditions in the long term, most notably harmful respiratory damage. This condition can often go undetected for a long time, because early symptoms are similar to cold or flu and include cough, runny nose, sore throat and/or sneezing. If gone untreated, respiratory damage can have serious impacts on people’s general health. Other long-term symptoms include fatigue, lethargy and itchy eyes, nose, lungs and throat. Additionally, asthma sufferers will find that their symptoms are greatly exacerbated.
What causes bad indoor air quality?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the air in the office your work in is completely safe. However there are a number of things which can cause poor even potentially harmful air quality in any kind of building.
What can (and should) be done about it?
Ensuring a safe working environment is one of the key responsibilities of any business or organisation, which includes ensuring indoor air quality is at safe and acceptable levels. Employers therefore have a duty of care to their employees and must take steps to make sure that the indoor air quality is safe.
Employers need to have their workplaces checked for the following kinds of contaminants:
1) Chemical pollutants – these could be chemicals produced from burning materials, construction material, or outside air pollution brought inside by air conditioning.
2) Particles and dust – dust from deadly substances such as silica and from generally non-dangerous substances such as wood, stone and plaster can be hazardous and even deadly when inhaled over the long term.
3) Biological pollutants – bacterial and fungi spores from mould and damp, and also viruses, bacteria, animal skin cells, pollen, dust mites and ammonia in particular work environments like hospitals, zoological stations and laboratories.
One of the key things employers can do is to ensure that all workspaces are properly ventilated, so that there is adequate air circulation and harmful gases do not become trapped. Whenever any construction is carried out on site, or if there are hazardous substances in the buildings, employers must also take steps to make sure these are dealt with appropriately so that they do not impact on air quality.
For workers who are regularly exposed to contaminants as part of their work, they should wear protective equipment such as face masks, and take particular care to ensure that workspaces are well ventilated. Such employees should also treat regular cold symptoms more seriously and be sure to seek medical attention in case it is a sign of something more serious.