Air pollution at the workplace & how to deal with it?

Updated: Jan 29




Air pollution in India and its severity


Deteriorating air quality is a crucial pan-India problem, making rounds at several roundtable conferences at various public administration levels. An article (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/developing-contemporary-india/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-indias-air-quality/) by the Times of India, published on January 28th, 2020, states that 76 percent of Indians reside in places that fail to meet the national air quality standards. It implies that no state in India has fresh air to breathe, as per the limit set by the World Health Organisation. The WHO air quality guidelines (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health#:~:text=%22WHO%20air%20quality%20guidelines%22%20estimate,related%20deaths%20by%20around%2015%25) estimate that lowering fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations from levels of 35 μg/m3to to 10 μg/m3 could reduce air pollution-related deaths by around 15%. Furthermore, air pollution is a pre-eminent risk factor contributing to death. One in every eight deaths in the country was inferable to air pollution in 2017. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/developing-contemporary-india/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-indias-air-quality/)


Additionally, indoor air quality, especially at the workplaces has been overlooked and is a hot topic of discussion these days. So let us take a thorough look at the factors causing this issue and the practical ways to cope with it.


What are workplace air quality standards?


It explains how the air at a workplace affects the health and productivity of the employees. It is a significant yet neglected factor that can majorly impact their well-being. This, in turn, inevitably affects the growth of businesses in the long-run. The issue of poor workplace air quality can be so subtle that even the most well-maintained buildings may fail to provide a safe and healthy work environment. A sneak-peek of the larger picture conveys that an unhealthy ambience may stand as a threat to economic growth.


Addressing the issue at a global level, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (presented at the First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in 2018) announced that everyone has the right to work in just and favourable work conditions. It further stated that workers have the right to breathe clean air at their respective workplaces.


It brings us to emphasise the indoor air pollution examples and the sources behind the problem.







What causes workplace air pollution?


Low workplace air quality is probably the most omitted health-related issue in offices and other institutions. The reason is that it probably cannot be seen by the naked eyes, unlike the outdoor air pollution that is noticeable. Possibilities are that indoor air pollution may not get noticed due to the utilisation of air conditioners and room fresheners that suppresses the bad air quality within the workplace.


  • Tobacco or cigarette smoke - The first one on our list is air pollution caused due to smoking either inside or outside the workplace. It hardly matters if employees go out to smoke because it somehow enters the workspace by remaining on the clothes and/ or the props used by the individuals. Smoke emitted from tobacco or cigarettes contain numerous toxic compounds that are unhealthy for the respiratory system.


  • Technological processes - Most workplaces are equipped with modern technologies for availing convenience in various tasks. Pollutants emitted from these technological pieces of equipment stay within the office space and harm the health of workers. Workplace air pollution is thus a significantly neglected cause of the bad health of employees.


  • Cleaning and dusting - Regular cleaning and dusting within the office premises may allow the lingering of minute dust particles, mites, etcetera. Lack of a proper ventilation system gives space to these tiny particles that keep floating over the indoor air. The long-drawn consequence can be allergies or frequent sneezing.


  • Chemical pollutants - These may be accumulated due to various building materials, cleaning agents, commercially manufactured goods, and certain other items that emit such pollutants.


  • Damp surroundings - High moisture present in the workspace provides the most suitable conditions for molds to propagate. In certain areas of workplaces like water points and washrooms, there are high possibilities of molds accumulating and thriving for a longer time.


  • Poor Ventilation - A poor ventilation system can boost the pollutant levels due to a lack of enough outdoor air to dilute the dust and pollutants present within the closed space. This, in turn, does not allow the dismissal of indoor air pollutants out of the area, making the indoor air unbreathable.


How to deal with workplace air pollution?


Air pollution within the workspace can be hardly seen, felt, or realised until people working there start showing symptoms triggered by low-quality air. The level of exposure to harmful air pollutants can sometimes be higher than outdoors. It is so because people spend a lot of their days at their workplace. Long durations of exposure to unhealthy working conditions can show toxic effects like allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues.


Following are some of the possible methods to detect and deal with workplace air pollution.


  • Keep proper ventilation - Keeping a regular check on the ventilation system is a good practice for all workplaces. It should be ensured that enough air gets ventilated throughout the day. Keep a check on the working conditions of air filtration systems.


  • Conduct air tests - Air testing kits are used to test the presence of air pollutants like mold, carbon monoxide, and other lethal gases. Inexpensive and handy kits can be used to collect the required samples that can be later sent to labs for appropriate testing.


  • Promote green workplace practices - Greens are indeed the saviours. Turning workplaces into a better and greener space by stationing planters with air-purifying plants can help enhance the beauty and indoor air quality.


  • Use air-purifying devices - Other than thoughtfully equipped planters, air-purifying devices like wet scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, collectors, antimicrobial air purifiers, and other technologically smart devices can help enhance the work ambience.


Summing it up


Indoor air quality must be an issue of concern for the authorities at all kinds of workplaces. It impacts the health and productivity of the employees. Bad workplace air quality can trigger numerous health-related issues among workers. Therefore, promoting and maintaining better air quality at workplaces is crucial for the businesses, work productivity, and the well-being of everyone involved in the hierarchy of a business or other institution.






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