OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) mandates that employers take precautions to prevent worker exposure to airborne hazards to their health and safety, although it usually does not prescribe specific preventive measures. Air quality guidelines include standards for air contaminants as well as proper ventilation. OSHA encourages employers to take necessary steps -- appropriate to the workplace setting -- to protect employees against unsuitable air quality, and it can take corrective actions when conditions are found to be hazardous.
The Occupational Safety Health Act "requires employers to furnish to each of his employees a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees." Employers are required to maintain ventilation systems to ensure indoor air is free from harmful pollutants. OSHA recommends that employers regulate temperature controls ranging from 68 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity in the range of 20 to 60 percent to ensure building occupants are working under comfortable conditions.
Hazards and Toxins
OSHA strives to make employers aware of the potential hazards and toxins that can damage the air quality of a building. Contaminants such as carbon monoxide are very serious and any threats of exposure to the gas must be controlled immediately. Other pollutants are hazardous when exposure lingers for an extended period of time. These pollutants include radon, as well as the chemicals in environmental tobacco smoke. Dirt, fungus, and mold are also hazards that affect air quality.
Air Quality Control
OSHA utilizes several different methods to control indoor air quality. OSHA investigates air quality by identifying sources of pollutants, evaluating HVAC systems, measuring employee exposure to contaminants, as well as regulating workplace practices. OSHA is also responsible for responding to air quality complaints by performing physical examinations and interviewing employees. Investigating complaints is a primary method of controlling the standard of air quality within the workplace.
There are certain minimum ventilation requirements that exist to protect air quality standards in the workplace. Ventilation standards apply to all facilities, even facilities that work with hazardous materials such as dry cleaners and laundromats. Ventilation systems must be designed to evenly distribute air and maintain the proper temperature and humidity so that it can efficiently remove airborne contaminants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates that outside air should be supplied into a facility at a rate of 15 to 60 cubic feet per minute per person.
While OSHA sets standards for the quality of indoor air, employers and employees can take measures to prevent pollutants from infecting their buildings' air. Properly maintaining HVAC systems and keeping vents unblocked will allow proper ventilation throughout the building and reduce airborne contaminants. Disposing of food and garbage properly will prevent contamination and food-borne odors. Also, the proper placement of office furniture is necessary to ensure that air is circulating adequately.
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