Living through a pandemic has taught us many lessons, one of which is the importance of good air quality. What we breathe into our bodies affects how we feel, move, and think. The air in our homes and outdoor environment is only part of the equation. Since we can spend eight hours or more at a job most days of the week, the air you breathe at work has a big impact on your life.
An employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace includes ensuring that their employees are not exposed to chemicals, toxins, and other dangerous elements each time they take a breath.
Reasons for Poor Air Quality in the Workplace
In ways big and small, how an employer maintains their building(s) and conducts business practices can impact the air you breathe. Indoor air pollutants fall into three basic categories: biological (bacteria, viruses, dust mites), chemical (gases and vapors), and particle (dust and dirt).
There are several factors that can contribute to poor air quality at work:
- Poor ventilation that does not provide adequate fresh air
- A dirty, debris-filled ventilation system
- A broken ventilation system
- Lead-based paint
- Cleaning products
- Fumes from remodeling and construction
- Fumes from dangerous chemicals and toxic gases
- Contaminated outdoor air that enters the facility
- Second-hand smoke
Consequences of Poor Air Quality
Air quality is not only about an employee’s comfort, but also about their health.
Poor indoor air quality has been linked to:
- Shortness of breath
- Eye irritation
- Nose and throat irritation
- Difficulty concentrating
These symptoms can affect every aspect of someone’s life, including their productivity while at work. In cases of long-term harmful exposure or a severe single episode, more serious ramifications can manifest, such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and cancer.
Sometimes poor air can affect many people at the same time.
The famous Legionnaire’s disease outbreak of 1976 involved about 4,000 delegates attending an American Legion convention in the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. Within days of the convention, people began getting ill and some died. In all, 221 people became ill and 34 died. After months of investigation, the cause was identified: contaminated water droplets, small enough that people unknowingly inhaled bacteria that caused them to become sick.
In sick building syndrome, illness is linked to time spent in the work building but no direct cause can be found. In building-related illness, the illness is identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.
Air Quality Workplace Regulations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to follow the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires them to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury. The OSH Act also requires employers to obey occupational safety and health standards created under it. Employers should be reasonably aware of the possible sources of poor air quality, and they should have the resources necessary to recognize and control workplace hazards. It is also their responsibility to inform employees of the immediate dangers that are present.
Taking Action Against Poor Air Quality at Work
The first step is to talk to your employer about your concerns. Ask them to test the air and conduct other mitigating actions like checking the heating and air conditioning systems to improve air quality. You can contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to see if they will conduct a health hazard evaluation at your workplace. You can report your concern to OSHA.
If you have signs and symptoms of illness, please seek appropriate medical care.
Depending on the circumstances at your workplace and your symptoms, you may have a claim for workers’ compensation. You do not have to prove that your employer knowingly or negligently allowed pollutants into the air. Any illness or injury that can be tied to the working environment may be grounds for workers’ compensation, even if you were provided protective equipment.
In more severe cases, civil litigation is a possible option.
If you have been sickened or injured by poor air quality at your workplace, our highly skilled legal team at Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC can evaluate your case and offer options to move forward; work to hold offenders accountable; and make sure your medical needs are met.
Our firm has years of experience and a reputation for professional excellence resulting from our repeatedly proven commitment to those we serve. Founded in 1999, our attorneys are individually experienced with rich careers and substantial accolades. We have represented both individuals and corporations, providing legal services and counsel to clients facing cases in both state and federal courts nationwide.
Schedule a consultation by using our online form or by calling (843) 968-0886.