OSHA and Indoor Air Quality

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more commonly known as OSHA, is the federal government agency designated to oversee the safety of certain workplaces in the United States. One safety issue associated with the workplace is air quality. OSHA provides some basic information on workplace air quality.

Air Quality and the Workplace

Employers are required to maintain a safe workplace. The workplace cannot have any known hazards. What this means is that an employer cannot know of a hazard in the workplace that exposes workers to serious injury or death.

With this in mind, an employer has to be reasonably aware of the possible sources of poor air quality in the workplace. An employer has an associated responsibility of addressing and alleviating or eliminating sources of poor air quality in the workplace.

Reasonably aware doesn’t mean that an employer has to be perfectly aware all of the time of the status of air quality at a work site. What it does mean is that an employer has to take all steps regarding air quality that a reasonably prudent person would do in the same or similar situation.

If an immediate danger erupts in regard to air quality, an employer must take action to notify workers and to evacuate them from the area, if necessary. As an aside, this type of action is what a reasonably prudent person would do under that set of facts or in those circumstances.

Exposure to Airborne Chemicals, Dust, or Other Hazards

OSHA provides information about what a worker should do if exposed to airborne chemicals, dust, or other hazards. OSHA does not have specific indoor quality standards for construction or other industry activities. OSHA does provide guidelines about the most common air quality issues, however.

Air quality issues, and response to problems, typically are related to matters like ambient temperature, humidity, and lack of appropriate outside ventilation. OSHA standards address specific potential hazardous situations or conditions that can lead to serious injury or even death. These standards stem from a law known as the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This most commonly is referred to as the OSH Act.

Cigarette Smoking in the Workplace

Many people presume OSHA regulates smoking in the workplace. Overall, the agency does not do that. That is more a function of state laws and local ordinances.

With that said, OSHA does have a set of regulations that pertain to smoking in relation to fire safety, but not air quality, issues. In other words, the regulations that pertain to different sources of ignition and things like dangerous chemicals is the area in which OSHA is involved.

Mold and the Workplace

Mold can be a problem in different types of workplaces. In fact, theoretically, any workplace can be the site of a mold issue.

Under the previously mentioned law, the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, employers are required to maintain a safe workplace, free of known hazards that can jeopardize worker health. This includes recognizing, detecting, controlling, and cleaning up mold.

In most situations, the best way to prevent and remediate mold is to identify sources of moisture. By being vigilant about sources of moisture, an employer can best prevent issues related old growth.

As has been stated previously, an employer must take all reasonable steps to be aware and mitigate issues like mold. An employer violates OSHA rules and regulations if it is not reasonably prudent in acting to prevent or mitigate the growth of mold.

Injured Workers

If a worker is injured because of some sort of violation of an OSHA standard, rule, or regulation, the agency is likely to undertake an investigation of the situation. The agency is likely to continue to monitor the situation at a workplace for a period of time after an accident or event that caused an injury or injuries.

Contacting OSHA

If a worker is concerned about the air quality in the workplace, and the employer appears to be taking no action in regard to the situation, a worker can contact OSHA. Contact can be made online or via a local or regional OSHA office in the brick and mortar world. Contact about a workplace concern can be made by phone as well.

In the end, both employers and workers are in the best position to maintain a safe workplace by understanding what is expected in that regard. With a basic understanding of what is expected in regard to air quality, the overall safety and comfort of the workplace is enhanced on a more consistent basis.

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Jessica Kane writes for Advance Online, a leading provider of web-based OSHA. DOT. and HAZWOPER training. 

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