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Breathing contaminated air poses an occupational health and safety threat

Over the past few decades, there have been many improvements in offices when it comes to indoor air quality. Remember when tobacco smoke clouds gathered over desks and cubicles in the not-too-distant past?

Thankfully, smoking in buildings has been banned and many office managers now have policies in place that cover cleaning schedules and personal care products, among other things. New construction buildings are often well insulated and maintained.

Still, energy-efficient construction doesn’t necessarily equal clean air, as millions of workers in North America have found out. Many office workers feel unwell or sick in the office, making indoor air quality a major concern that affects productivity, absenteeism and overall well-being.

work-at-my-office-1240827-639x427

Spending a lot of time in polluted office air can be bad for your health and well-being.

In fact, the EPA says that lost productivity and medical care due to poor indoor air quality results in tens of billions of dollars lost for the economy.

What causes bad office air?

The sources for poor indoor air quality in the office are varied and manifold. They can arise in older as well as in newer office buildings, depending on construction, maintenance, history, building occupants and much more.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says one of the most common issues in office buildings is the heating and ventilation system, especially if it is not properly maintained or insufficient for the size of the building or the number of occupants in the building.

The HVAC system may lack the power to draw in sufficient amounts of outdoor air for the right number of air exchanges, for example, allowing air contaminants to build up indoors.

Other IAQ troublemakers include:

  • Construction materials used in the building (including particle boards, glues, office furnishings, fiberglass and VOC-releasing materials such as carpets and paints)
  • An increase in the number of workers in the office building (this is often a concern with startups or rapidly growing companies)
  • An increase in indoor air contaminants due to mold, bacteria, viruses, chemicals, dusts or gases
  • Poorly regulated temperature and humidity – high humidity can cause mold growth.
  • Workplace cleaning products, pesticides, disinfectants and similar products that pollute indoor air with volatile organic compounds and toxic gases
  • Modern office equipment such as large office printers, computers and photocopiers
  • Outdoor air pollution that enters the building and is allowed to build up indoors

How does it affect workers?

As usual with indoor air quality concerns, not everyone reacts to contaminants the same way. Some office workers are really bothered by changes in smell, temperature or noise level, for example, while others don’t seem to notice.

However, if there are high levels of indoor air contaminants that affect office workers, then these workers often report one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Irritated and dry eyes, nose, throat, and skin
  • A recurring headache
  • Seemingly unfounded tiredness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath (and higher risk of asthma attacks)
  • Hypersensitivity and allergies
  • Sinus congestion
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

These symptoms may not be noticeable right away, but most people report them after a few hours at work. Of course, the symptoms may also be related to other health problems, but a good indicator of an indoor air quality issue is if those suffering from symptoms report feeling better when they leave the office building or when they are away for a longer period of time.

What to do if you suspect polluted air at the office

Even though office workers are protected under the occupational health and safety guidelines that apply to all employed individuals, office air quality is proving tough to regulate.

Many of the occupational exposure limits for dust or chemicals are supposed to protect workers from illness or health effects in industrial settings where they may be exposed to high levels of pollutants. These exposure limit guidelines are not suited to office settings, where exposure levels may be lower yet more long-term, and involving a variety of pollutants..

Common sense says long-term exposure to a variety of harmful air pollutants should be just as — if not more — dangerous than occasional exposure to higher levels of the same pollutant, but authorities do not have enough information on the health effects of several pollutants put together to finalize occupational guidelines for the office.

So indoor air quality concerns at the office are difficult to prove and difficult to resolve. But is it hopeless? Not at all.

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Make sure the HVAC system is checked and maintained.

If you suspect poor indoor air quality at the office, there are many things you can do to help diagnose and treat the problem.

  1. If you are experiencing symptoms yourself, keep track of them and save a record to show your safety officer, supervisor or other applicable person.
  2. Work together with the building manager and supervisors to look for possible causes
  3. Make sure the ventilation system is checked and maintained properly. Does it remove or dilute odors and contaminants with exhaust fans? Does it distribute acceptable levels of outdoor air to all workers? Is it set up to control pressure relationships between rooms (for example, bathrooms and kitchens should be maintained at negative pressure to contain any smells, while computer rooms should be maintained at positive pressure to avoid a buildup of dust)
  4. Initiate a survey to gather more information about possible sources and causes
  5. Do a walk-through in the building to pinpoint possible sources of air pollution
  6. Use your nose as an indicator. A musty smell could mean a humidity-related problem that can cause or exacerbate allergies. A chemical smell might be formaldehyde or another chemical, which can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. A solvent smell can cause allergy symptoms, dizziness and headache and is often caused by VOCs. A dusty or chalky smell (or wet cement) can cause respiratory problems, eye, nose, skin and throat irritation, coughing and sneezing and it often related to fine particle pollution and a problem with the humidification system. Noticeable body odor may be caused by overcrowding or a low ventilation rate and complaints often include headaches, tiredness and stuffiness.
  7. Get the air tested by a qualified professional with air sampling and air monitoring
  8. Make sure that everyone does their best to improve IAQ: Do not block any air vents, store food properly and dispose of garbage regularly; clean with non-toxic products; avoid perfumes and similar products; educate workers so that no one is accidentally contributing to poor IAQ.
  9. Plan renovations with IAQ in mind
  10. Report any water leaks immediately and have them fixed as soon as possible.

Poor indoor air quality can seriously affect productivity, morale and worker’s well-being.

It is important to address any IAQ issues promptly and to fix the problem.

IAQ professionals and health authorities alike remind us that indoor air quality is a shared responsibility that requires cooperation and swift action from facility managers, owners, occupants, personnel and supervisors.

Prevention is always better than treatment.

Poor indoor air quality can affect workers’ health and productivity, studies show.

The indoor air in offices and other types of workplaces has long become a major concern to health officials – it exposes employees to many different pollutants and toxins that can affect health and well-being as well as working performance.

Indoor air pollution can come from

  • Office equipment (e.g. printers)
  • Building materials (paint, finishes, stain repellents)
  • Personal care products and air fresheners
  • Cleaning products
  • Poor ventilation
  • Poor air exchange
  • Water damage (mold) or other indoor air quality problems

When a workplace exposes employees to poor indoor air quality, common complaints include headaches, sneezing, discomfort, lower productivity, respiratory conditions and other ailments.

Studies have confirmed that a healthier indoor environment can increase productivity and benefit a company’s bottom line.

There are certain things every workplace can do to provide a cleaner and healthier indoor environment:

  1. Ban smoking indoors and close to the building
  2. Make sure garbage is regularly and properly disposed of
  3. Act quickly to fix water leaks and spills to avoid active mold growth
  4. Use an air purifier – the best air purifiers contain activated carbon, HEPA and UV filtration technologies to remove the widest range of contaminants
  5. Avoid clutter in the workplace for best circulation of air
  6. Make sure fresh air can get inside the building
  7. Get professional help if there is a serious indoor air quality problem

Source: Wamda

Air cleaners with carbon and HEPA filters

Air cleaners and air purifiers are invaluable tools when it comes to improving the air quality at the workplace.

Electrocorp specializes in air filtration systems for industrial and commercial applications and has developed portable as well as HVAC-compatible or wall-mountable air cleaners for the office, office printers, and air purifiers for facility management.

The air cleaners feature a large activated carbon filter for gaseous pollutants and odors, a HEPA filter for particles and optional UV germicidal filtration for pathogens.

Electrocorp also works with environmental consultants and other experts to solve indoor air quality concerns in all types of environments.

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

Synthetic chemicals in cleaning products can affect building occupants’ health and well-being.

Many people and workers identify a clean room or building with a “fresh” scent, especially when it comes to washrooms, lobbies, cafeterias and general office and classroom areas.

But the fragrances used in many scented products contain a wide range of potentially harmful chemicals.

In addition, a growing number of people suffer from allergic-type reactions when exposed to these fragrances. Those with sensitivities have reported respiratory problems, nausea and other health effects.

A clean building is a must – but overpowering scents such as floral, lemon or pine are not, no matter what advertising spots and the media will have us believe.

Products that clean without leaving a fake scent are also often better for the environment and just as effective for cleaning purposes.

No scent cleaning products are now much more common, meaning they won’t be too costly to use (plus, buying in bulk helps to offset costs, too).

Facility management experts have compiled a list of steps to go from chemical hazards to a scent-free policy:

  1. Draft a No Scent Policy: The policy should involve a number of key managers, human resource staff and health and safety employees. For a sample policy, go to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
  2. Open communication channels with building occupants: Everyone should be aware of the policy and the reasons behind it. This can be done with brochures, flyers, newsletters, presentations or other processes.
  3. Set a realistic deadline: Building managers will need time to remove fragrance dispensers in rooms, research no scent cleaning products and train the cleaning staff in how to use the new products.
  4. Make a list of approved unscented cleaning products available. This will avoid confusion as to what is and isn’t allowed in the building.
  5. Put up signs that alert building occupants and visitors that the building is now scent-free.
  6. Anticipate complains and concerns. Make a plan on how to deal with non compliant building occupants.

Source: Wood Wyant Sanitation Solutions

Control odors and indoor air pollutants with portable air cleaners

Cleaning chemicals are a major culprit for indoor air pollution, so switching over to scent-free, greener alternatives will go a long way in reducing exposure for workers.

The air in office buildings and other workplaces often still contains airborne chemicals and contaminants from building materials, electronic equipment, printer ink, paint fumes, dust, mold, bacteria and viruses.

That is why Electrocorp has developed powerful portable air cleaners for facility management, office buildings, office printers and other industrial and commercial applications.

The air cleaners feature a highly effective activated carbon + HEPA filtration system that can remove irritating chemicals, gases, odors, fumes, bacteria, viruses, mold, particles, allergens and more.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and available options.

Men’s phones and chairs feature the highest levels of bacteria: researchers.

All things are not equal when it comes to the bacteria in the office – men’s office spaces (especially their chair and phone) have a much higher bacteria count than women’s, a new study shows.

Researchers couldn’t find a significant difference in the office bacterial communities of New York and San Francisco, but in both cases, men’s offices had higher bacteria counts.

There are a lot of different bacteria present in our indoor environments, the researchers say. They identified more than 500 bacterial genera in offices in three cities.

They say most bacteria come from human skin or the nasal, oral or intestinal cavities.

Other bacteria may be brought in from soils and other sources.

While most workers may instinctively name their desktop, keyboard and mouse as bacteria-harboring devices, the researchers found the highest abundance of bacteria on chairs and phones.

The study appears in the open access journal PLoS ONE. It was funded by university grants as well as commercial sources (Clorox Corporation).

Source: Public Library of Science

Air cleaners for bacteria, viruses, mold and other pollutants

Workers are spending so much time indoors that poor indoor air quality has become a serious concern for companies and healthcare professionals.

RAP Series: Portable, powerful air cleaners.

The air in offices and other commercial and industrial workplaces can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, molds, particles, dust, chemicals, gases, odors and fumes.

Existing ventilation systems may not be enough to provide adequate fresh air exchanges.

Electrocorp has developed portable yet extremely powerful air cleaners for industrial and commercial applications that can tackle the indoor air concerns mentioned above.

The air cleaners feature an efficient activated carbon + HEPA filter combination as well as optional UV germicidal filtration, which helps neutralize biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and mold.

Browse Electrocorp’s air cleaners for offices, office printers, facility management and more, or contact an IAQ specialist from Electrocorp for more information and suggestions.

Healthier workplaces are better for worker comfort, well-being and productivity.

Watch out, Sick Building Syndrome – you may be on your way out if this trend of healthier offices continues.

The term Sick Building Syndrome was coined in the 1970s, when increasingly airtight construction and potentially harmful indoor air pollution caused many employees to experience fatigue, headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, sensitivity to odors and more.

The indoor air pollution often came from contaminants emitted by carpeting, furniture, printers, building materials and other products, personal care products, cleaning agents, and outdoor sources such as allergens, vehicle or industrial exhaust, bacteria, viruses and molds.

The problems were made worse by a lack of ventilation or malfunctioning heating systems, over-staffing and little control over the physical environment (locked windows etc.).

Widespread air quality problems in buildings

At some point in the time World Health Organization reported that up to 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings around the world had sick-building complaints.

Now a growing public awareness, initiatives like the EPA’s “Healthy Buildings Healthy People” and the green movement including LEED buildings certification, buildings are finally becoming healthier again.

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification incorporates standards for energy and water conservation, indoor environmental quality and more.

Building ventilation standards are being revised and facility managers and administrators are looking for ways to improve the indoor air quality – but of course, there is still a long way to go for many buildings.

Source: Mercury Daily News

Remove indoor air pollutants with air cleaners

Whether office buildings are healthy or not, indoor air quality can become a problem in any environment that accommodates a lot of people over an extended amount of time.

That’s why Electrocorp has designed portable air cleaners for offices that feature the most effective air filters and help provide cleaner and healthier air.

The air cleaners’ activated carbon filters remove irritating odors, chemicals, VOCs, gases and fumes, the HEPA filter takes care of particles and dust and the optional UV germicidal lamp neutralizes biological contaminants such as mold, bacteria and viruses.

Electrocorp’s air cleaners for office printers are made specifically for larger photocopy machines and printers that are common in offices.

They feature the same types of air filters and a custom intake hood, intercepting harmful chemicals and particles at the printer exhaust before they can spread and affect workers.

Contact Electrocorp for more information and recommendations.

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