What should you be doing to ensure indoor air quality at the workplace?
3 minute read
When thinking about workplace health and safety, air quality might not be the first thing that springs to mind.
Employees are often told to be aware of their surroundings and be proactive as far as identifying visual hazards and removing them, but what of the dangers they can’t see?
ChemCentre Organic Chemistry Manager Angela Downey explained that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) could have a serious effect on the health of employees.
“A Harvard study undertaken to assess the effects of varying IAQ conditions has suggested that indoor air quality and productivity of employees are directly linked and that healthy air quality directly contributed to the increased performance of staff,” she said.
Symptoms due to poor IAQ exposure can include:
• Dryness and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin • Headaches • Fatigue • Shortness of breath • Hypersensitivity and allergies • Sinus congestion • Coughing and sneezing • Dizziness • Nausea
“While these symptoms can also be caused by other factors such as colds or flu, employees experiencing poor IAQ will tend to feel better after they have left the building or when they have been away from the building for a weekend or a holiday,” Ms Downey said.
“Because poor IAQ can increase the risk of health problems, including respiratory illnesses and allergies, improving IAQ could lead to substantial health benefits, improved mental health and increased staff performance.”
Poor IAQ can be caused by improper or poorly maintained building services, causing inadequate temperature, humidity, inadequate air circulation or insufficient outdoor air intake.
Contamination by chemicals, dusts, moulds or fungi, bacteria, gases, vapours or odours can also contribute to poor air quality, as can an increase in the number of building occupants and the length of time spent indoors.
“As with any other occupational health and safety concern, employees are entitled to a reasonable quality of indoor air,” Ms Downey said.
“Australian employers have obligations under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and the WHS Regulations 2011, the Safe Work Australia Act 2008 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 to provide a safe working environment for their employees so far as is reasonably practicable.
“Employees should discuss any concerns with their supervisor, their health and safety representative or any other member of their company with responsibility for health and safety.”
Ms Downey said employers had a number of options available to them in taking steps to safeguard their employees from poor indoor air quality.
“Employers should ensure facilities are maintained and services are operating effectively, conduct risk assessments and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees where required,” she said.
“It is important to stay aware of events that may affect air quality like bushfires or adverse weather in the area, and to check on the wellbeing of staff and listen to any concerns they may have around air quality.
“Employers can enlist specialist help to monitor air quality with the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH), who are able to provide advice, expertise and resources in this regard.”