On the Job Respiratory Problems: How Can They Be Prevented?

You have to be able to breathe in order to work, right? That’s common sense. The average person breathes in about 2,800 litres of air each workday, more if they are undergoing more physical labor. With so much of your oxygen intake being met at work, the air quality of your workplace is an important aspect of your work environment to consider and keep in mind.

While any workspace can suffer from air quality issues, many common air related problems come with working in construction, factories and warehouses. If there is poor air quality in your workplace, particularly in these three environments, steps need to be taken in order to improve it. While some problems may be harder to address than others, the following three  air quality issues are actually easily preventable if precautions are taken:

1) Allergies

An allergy is defined as “an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection, or skin contact.” Over 36 million people suffer from allergies in the United States. Individuals who work indoors in offices are usually affected by dust, but those working in factories and warehouses should also be wary of dust mites. Twenty-two million Americans suffer from asthma and that can be easily exacerbated by dust mites.

If your allergies are distracting you from work and making it difficult to concentrate, follow these tips to help clear the air:

  • Dust your workspace frequently. By keeping your station free of dust, you can reduce your risk of being affected by malicious dust particles and dust mites.
  • Are there films of pollen coating the window panes at work? Keep windows and doors closed as much as possible to prevent pollen from infiltrating the building. Use an air filter and regularly clean the filter to counter pollen build up.
  • Mold spores thrive in damp areas. Check often for puddles and immediately mend any leaks found to halt any mold spore intrusions.
  • Consider wearing a face mask when performing any work outdoors during windy days or peak pollen times (between 10 AM and 4 PM).

2) Poor Ventilation

Do you notice a musty smell at work? Do you suffer from symptoms, like headaches or tiredness, that start in the workplace but dissipate once you leave work? Your workplace could have poor ventilation. To address this problem, try doing the following:

  • Regularly change filters on air purifiers and air filters. If an air filter is left to collect too much build-up, it won’t be able to properly do its job. If you regularly clean your workspace you can cut down on the number of times you need to replace your filter.
  • Make sure each fuel burning device is ventilated separately.
  • If allergies aren’t a problem, open windows and let fresh air into the room.

3) Inhalation of Chemicals

Working with and alongside heavy chemicals can cause serious health issues. Chemicals can be inhaled into the body in the form of gases, mists and dusts. Symptoms of chemical inhalation include irritation of the eyes and nose, a cough, or shortness of breath – and in some cases, the ingredients in certain chemicals can contribute to the development of serious health ailments. Follow these steps to prevent inhaling harmful chemicals while at work:

  • Gas masks should be readily available on-site in the event of a chemical spill. All workers should be trained on the proper use and when to use a gas mask.
  • Always use extreme care when handling dangerous chemicals. Remember, the best way to avoid inhalation is to follow safety protocols for the handling and transportation of hazardous substances – and it’s better to be careful and safe than reckless and sorry!
  • Knowledge is power! Be sure to educate workers on the types of chemicals they are working with, as well as about the appropriate ways of handling each one. This will help to prevent any problems or misunderstandings among the people who have been designated to handle chemicals on-site.

These are just three examples of how anyone can begin to address common and likely air quality issues at their place of work. It’s important to remember, however, that while some issues can be handled in-house, other problems may require additional outside assistance before being addressed. Because of this, it’s important for every staff member at a company to be on-board with supporting air quality procedures at their place of work.

Don’t wait for problems to develop before bringing up your concerns with management. And if you feel like there is a problem in your workplace with poor air quality that has not been properly managed until now you should bring it up with your supervisor or with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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