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Importance of Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is more important than people realize and is often an overlooked hazard. We often miss those nagging and often subtle signals of discomfort that poor air conditions can cause. We may understand that the air is stuffy, or damp, or irritating to our sinuses, but our job tasks seem to be calling us and we ignore the signs that accompany poor IAQ.

The Facts
1. 90% of our time is spent indoors, where air quality is typically worse than outside air because it is continuously recycled, causing the trapping and build-up of pollutants.
2. Unmanaged indoor air quality is 2-5x worse than outside air quality.
3. Productivity decreases by 8-10% in poor indoor air quality conditions.

A recent module added to Act First Safety’s Joint Health and Safety Committee Certification – Part 2 course is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). This module explores the importance of IAQ and particularly the biological and chemical pollutants that affect workers across all industries. To complicate matters, poor IAQ can even affect us in our own homes. Indoor air quality (IAQ) impacts the health, productivity and wellbeing of building occupants.

The focus on controlling contaminants typically centres on the ventilation system. Yet, even modern buildings with up-to-date mechanical ventilation may be diagnosed as “sick buildings” in need of a cure. This requires joint health and safety committee members and health and safety representatives to identify and control the hazards associated with poor air quality. A 2014 Harvard School of Public Health double-blind study showed high carbon dioxide (CO₂) and volatile organic compound levels found in most conventional buildings have direct negative impacts on thinking and decision-making (cognitive ability). A national random sampling of US office workers showed 24% perceived air quality problems at work and 20% believed their work performance was adversely affected by IAQ.

Sources of contaminants negatively affecting air quality include:
• In office buildings, photocopiers, printers, lighting, UV rays and even plants.
• In restaurants, stoves, grills, fryers and refrigerators.
• Cleaning chemicals, carpeting, treated wood, lubricants, detergents and all types of synthetic fibers.

Underperforming HVAC systems and buildings with poor ventilation expose hundreds of thousands of workers to indoor air contaminants every day.

The Good News…
Researchers found that, on average, cognitive ability scores were between 61% to 101% higher in ‘green’ building environments versus conventional building environments particularly due to lower levels of VOCs and fine particulate matter (exhaust, cooking, grinding, etc). As we have discovered and continue to learn in safety training, there are a number of factors affecting the quality of air in your workplace. The good news is that most of the challenges associated with IAQ are fixable. The hazards can be either prevented or corrected and generally solutions are low-cost. What you learn in safety training is getting everyone involved in the process of identifying the hazards and finding safety solutions that will allow you, as a member of the joint health and safety committee, to use your learned control methods to document and manage these hazards into the future. Joint Health and Safety Committee Certification safety training is completed when health and safety representatives finish six hazard modules that can be applied to their workplace. This training is mandatory training for employers with 20 or more employees and is enforced by the Ministry of Labour (MOL). Employers must seek a MOL-approved training provider like Act First Safety.

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