What Is The OSHA Standard For Air Quality?
The OSHA Established Air Health And Safety Requirements That Businesses Should Follow
To protect your employees and patrons against poor indoor air quality, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established guidelines for indoor air quality. This standard establishes air health and safety requirements that businesses should follow.
Maintaining air quality is super important, and sometimes OSHA standards are required for business operations. To help you understand the requirements, we've laid out the OSHA air quality standards and what they mean for your business.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of air in buildings. More specifically, it speaks to air cleanliness or air pollution and its effect on the inhabitants. Poor IAQ affects the health, comfort, and well-being of building occupants. Notably, poor IAQ has is common linked to causing sick building syndrome.
Within businesses, IAQ is commonly measured based on the level of air pollutant sources. These pollutants can include:
- Building materials
- Office furnishings
- Household cleaners
- HVAC pollution
- Ozone from ozone generators
- Excessive levels of moisture
- Fuel-burning combustion appliances
- Tobacco and cooking smoke
- Outdoor sources, i.e. air pollution and PM levels
For the most part, the air quality inside a business is managed through central HVAC systems, which have ventilation systems to monitor air quality and filters for preliminary cleaning. More advanced ventilation systems are needed in larger buildings to ensure that the entire volume of air in the building remains clean. Additionally, specific industries need more ventilation sources, especially industrial services that use materials that emit many potentially dangerous pollutants.
What Is OSHA's Standard For Air Quality?
OSHA provides guidelines for managing IAQ under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These guidelines also include temperature controls, humidity, poor ventilation, and smoking.
The OSHA statutes and standards that cover air quality are within Section 5(a)(1) and Section 5(a)(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. These state the following:
Referred to as the General Duty Clause, it requires employers to furnish the facility in a way free from known hazards and free from things that might bring harm or death to employees.
While broad-sweeping, this section requires that employers comply with occupational safety and health standards under the Act. Applicable standards include:
- 29 CFR 1904, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
- 29 CFR 1910.94, Ventilation
- 29 CFR 1910.1000, Air Contaminants
- 29 CFR 1910.1048, Formaldehyde
- 29 CFR 1910.1450, Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories
OSHA ventilation standards are in place as general guidelines, so OSHA-approved assessors can come in and evaluate the workplace and make sure that it is free from the established hazards or hazards that aren't specified in the Act. OSHA recommends that business owners educate themselves on possible pollutants, such as ozone generating machines, and the list of regulated contaminants and products that might cause air pollution.
How OSHA Manages Air Quality
OSHA manages air quality through regular checks on businesses and measurement tools. OSHA sends in quality control agents (industrial hygienists) to evaluate the workplace for chemical hazards and see if any are covered under a PEL or a legal, regulatory limit on the quality or concentration that may be exposed to an employee.
PEL is based on the exposure type. For example, Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) will have a certain exposure level by air and exposure duration (average weighted time; TWA). Contaminants are then organized based on exposure limits.
Listed below are the contaminant exposure recommendations established by industry experts:
- Recommended Exposure Limits (REL) established by NIOSH, or the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Healthy.
- Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) published by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).
- Workplace Environmental Exposure Levels (WEELs), published by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
OSHA air quality monitoring is based on an enforcement policy, which often includes employers providing exposure records. Complying with OSHA guidelines is a simple process for most businesses with established facility or operational managers. Familiarity with HVAC systems, exhaust/ventilation standards, along with IAQ knowledge, makes building managers equipped to meet OSHA requirements.
Top 5 Ways Businesses Can Improve Indoor Air Quality
To help businesses establish and improve indoor air quality, Sanalife's team of experts has created five simple ways businesses can improve their IAQ.
#1 Learn About The Importance of IAQ
One of the best ways you can work to improve indoor air quality in your business is to learn the importance of IAQ. Many businesses owners and operations managers may not recognize how critical IAQ is in maintaining a clean, healthy, and safe indoor environment.
Your businesses' indoor environment functions as an ecosystem for your employees to work within. From your co-working spaces to closed offices and conference rooms, each area in your business has a myriad of potential IAQ problems and needs. Therefore, you can make calculated decisions to implement air quality controls and improvements by learning about IAQ.
#2 Identify Common Sources For Indoor Air Pollutants
Pollutants range from biological to chemical and particle-related. They also come from sources commonly found in various indoor environments. Below is a list of potential sources resulting in indoor air pollutants:
- Building furnishings and pressed-wood materials: typically results in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde from used adhesives.
- Renovations and construction: typically results in the production of dust, particulate matter, and VOCs. May also introduce dormant mold spores or chemicals into the air.
- Building maintenance and cleaning: common cleaning agents and chemicals may introduce VOCs or gases into the indoor air.
- Kitchens, cooking, and waste management: typically introduces gases, smoke, odors, and particulate into the indoor environment. Smoke and odors often remain in the air for more extended periods.
- Poorly designed or malfunctioning HVAC: possible hindrances of air circulation or ventilation may keep pollutant concentration levels above normal, contributing to poor air quality.
#3 Practice IAQ Problem Prevention
There are several management approaches that businesses can employ to address air quality in the workplace. These include overall safety and health programs, training, employee involvement, hazard identification and control, and auditing.
One of the best ways to improve air quality is to listen to your employee's recommendations or concerns. While your employees' concerns may seem minor, they could indicator broader systemic problems. Building owners and managers are advised to seek implementation of an IAQ management plan following the EPA's report on IAQ Tools for Office Buildings.
Additional proactive measures you can take to prevent IAQ problems include:
- Assessing and regularly servicing the HVAC system.
- Monitoring carbon dioxide levels.
- Implementing an air purifier system.
- Monitoring temperature and humidity.
- Ensuring that the air pressure from the building is accurate.
- Routinely inspecting for mold.
Also, be sure you or your facility manager knows how to identify contaminant issues or assess problems. You may have to inspect the building structure, initiate physical examinations, and checking exhaust controls.
#4 Learn the Three Basic Control Methods For IAQ Problems
Indoor Air Quality management may seem to be a daunting task. However, there are three basic control methods that managers can take to determine IAQ problems.
- Locating the source of potential air pollutants.
- Seeking engineering controls (ventilation, air exchanges, MERV 13 filtration, HVAC Induct air purifier technologies).
- Introduce portable air purifier controls.
Although training may be needed for your facility management team, having everyone educated will help identify IAQ problems when they occur. Additionally, your facility's team will proactively identify issues and relocate portable air purifier systems into spaces which airborne pollutant concentrations.
#5 Seek Professional Assistance
When in doubt, seeking professional support for indoor air quality problems will help resolve the issue quickly. You may have to contact a local, state, or federal agency for direction in this regard. Professionals include structural engineers, architects, mechanical engineers, industrial hygienists, and IAQ consultants such as Sanalife's team of subject matter experts.
OSHA Standard for Air Quality and COVID
Maintaining good air quality and trying to reopen safely during the COVID pandemic can be difficult. You need to ensure that you are still hitting the safety requirements from OSHA, but you may be asked to make some changes.
For example, it is widely recommended that businesses open windows to increase air circulation to help reduce biological aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). However, for businesses, common closed-off spaces often do not receive adequate ventilation or air circulation.
In addition to the administrative controls and other safe workplace practices, OSHA also recommends that you:
- Install high-efficiency air particulate filters (HEPA).
- Increase efficiency of HVAC filters to MERV 13 or higher.
- Increase ventilation in workplace settings.
- Install physical barriers (the clear plastic sneeze guards)
- Add additional sanitization protocols, such as hand sanitizing stations throughout the facility.
- Use negative pressure ventilation in specific settings.
One of the simplest ways to improve indoor air quality and maintain quality controls recommended by OSHA is implementing portable air purifier controls. Uncertain where to begin in choosing a suitable portable or induct HVAC air purifier solution for your business? Contact Sanalife today at 617-865-2665 to chat with one of our IAQ experts on standby.
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