Identifying indoor air quality problems
- There is no single test for IAQ problems, but they can often be identified by inspecting the workplace and gathering information about symptoms suffered by employees.
Buildings with poor indoor air quality (IAQ) may have unpleasant or musty odors or feel hot and stuffy. Some workers may complain about symptoms that happen at work and go away when they leave work, like having headaches or feeling tired. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath among employees can be symptoms of a more serious problem.
However, not all exposures cause symptoms, so there is no substitute for good building management.
Inspecting for IAQ problems
There is no single test to find an IAQ problem. Regular inspections and testing should be done, checking:
- Temperature, humidity, and airflow;
- Whether the ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems are working according to specifications for building use and occupancy; and
- Whether odors, water damage, leaks, dirt, or pest droppings are present.
Sources that may lead to IAQ problems need to be eliminated. Standing water in humidifiers, air conditioning units, on roofs, and in boiler pans can become contaminated with bacteria or fungi. In some circumstances, specific testing for radon or for asbestos may be required as part of building occupancy.
Assessing employee symptoms
It is often difficult to determine if symptoms are a result of exposure to poor IAQ or some other factors. However, the following questions may be helpful in figuring out if there is an IAQ problem at a facility:
- Do employees have symptoms that just occur at work and go away when they get home?
- What are these symptoms?
- Are these symptoms related to a certain time of day, a certain season, or certain location in the workplace?
- Did the symptoms start when something new happened in the workplace, such as renovation or construction projects?
- Are there other employees at work with similar complaints?
- Did any employee see a doctor for the symptoms, and if so, did the doctor diagnose an illness related to IAQ?
If answers to the above questions indicate a possible IAQ issue, an effort should be made to identify indoor air sources at the worksite that may be possible causes.