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Office Air Quality And Your Health

February 21, 2019

By: Jackie Edwards 


Between 8,000 and 18,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized yearly with Legionnaires' disease and the number of Legionnaires’ cases reported has been steadily increasing over the last two decades according to the CDC. 2017, showed a greater than sixfold increase in reported cases since 2000. Office or indoor air quality can affect an individual's health, comfort, and ability to work. Therefore, OSHA provides guidelines regarding indoor air quality for commercial and institutional buildings and enhanced workplace safety

Threats To Indoor Air Quality

Poor upkeep of ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems in combination with dampness or moisture damage can be deemed as a risk to the health of those who occupy the space. Other common problems which can compromise office air quality are dirty air filters, AC drainage problems, and refrigerant leaks. Pest droppings or pests, in general, are a threat and further risk is added by employee or occupant activities inside the space such as ongoing construction within the building.

Indications Of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Unpleasant musty odors or occupants who feel hot and stuffy are an indicator of poor office air quality. Experiencing headaches, which stop when leaving an office space are cause for further investigation. Fever, coughing, and shortness of breath can be symptoms of a more serious problem, Legionnaires’ Disease, which leads to pneumonia. Other symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include chills, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and confusion.

Legionella bacteria are commonly spread through airborne water droplets, which are inhaled or aspired. Although the illness can affect occupants year round it is most prevalent during summer and early fall. Rising temperatures produce more virulent strains of the potentially lethal disease. If multiple employees experience symptoms, illness or have shared complaints at the same time, the workspace must be inspected.

Ensuring Good Air Quality

Good indoor air quality should include a comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building. Employers should have routine checks on temperature, humidity airflow, odors, water damage, and leaks, or pest droppings within the workspace. Inspecting and testing the air conditioning to ensure that the performance is up to par is mandatory. When something looks or sounds out of the ordinary you should take it as a sign of trouble and employers or building managers should notify all occupants of any risk.

Prevention is always better than cure.  Employers should be reasonably aware of the possible sources of poor air quality, and they should have contingency plans in place to control any hazard that may arise in addition to plans for preventative maintenance to be carried out. Employers must provide a safe work environment for all employees and employees must also be aware of their rights and must be conscious of their environment and how it relates to or affects their health at all times. Indoor air quality should not be disregarded.