There are two terms associated with indoor air pollution in offices:
SBS (Sick Building Syndrome) is identified with symptoms such as head- ache, eye, nose or throat irritation, fatigue, dry cough, dizziness and nausea, and sensitivity to odors-all of which appear to be linked to time spent in the building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.
BRI (Building Related Illness) is the common name for infections or allergic responses due to organisms (or chemicals) which grow or accumulate in buildings. It may be possible that SBS is a precursor of BRI-this means that if SBS symptoms are not mitigated, the problems may continue to intensify until BRI occurs.
SURVEY YOUR FELLOW WORKERS.
CREATE A LIST OF ALL POSSIBLE CAUSES OF YOUR AIR QUALITY PROBLEMS.
DOCUMENT MEDICAL PROBLEMS IN YOUR OFFICE.
INVESTIGATE, YOUR VENTILATION SYSTEM.
EVALUATE THE QUALITY OF YOUR OFFICE AIR
What can be done?
There are a number of specific changes that can be made to improve the quality of your office air.
Regular maintenance of the ventilation system, increases in the percentage of fresh air in each air exchange and more frequent air changes are all positive steps to better air quality. Relocating roof intake vents where they will draw in the cleanest air available along with adjustments for more efficient cleaning of recirculated and "fresh" air may also help to eliminate problems.
Any office equipment that produces pollutants must be properly maintained. This machinery should be isolated and special ventilation should be provided.
Buildings can have volatile pollutants "baked out." This can be done by turning up the heat to maximum and venting the fumes to the outside over a weekend or longer shutdown period. Although cigarette smoke is a major contributor to the poor quality of indoor air, smoking should not be a cause for direct confrontation among workers. Another approach is to designate smoking areas within the workplace. With better ventilation, this problem can be greatly alleviated.
Strategies: Getting management to act
After completion of a health survey and a study of your office environment, meet with management. Present your documentation of the office air pollution problem and a list of demands to solve these problems. Include a deadline for action. If you have a grievance procedure file a grievance, specifying your demands as the remedy.
Once you have completed your own study you should consider calling an industrial hygienist from your union or other agency to perform a health hazard evaluation.
If you have a collective bargaining agreement and management won't make the changes you request, incorporate your demands into proposed language for the next negotiations.
Most likely, if you are going to make effective changes you will have to take some direct action to reinforce your demands. For example, workers could wear buttons which state, "We Want Fresh Air ... Not Hot Air." Remember, change often takes time. Working together, you and your fellow workers can make the changes you need to improve the quality of your office air.
Copies of Indoor Air Health Surveys can be obtained from SEMCOSH.
Common Office Toxins
Duplicating machines solvent
Ventilation shafts, ceilings or ceiling tiles
Rubber cement and some cleaners, stencil fluid, copier toner, liquid eraser
Adhesives, waxes, inks, rubber carbon, typewriter ribbons, photocopying papers, cleaning fluids Hazard: Common office irritants
Insulation, glues in new carpeting, building materials
Copying machines, electrical equipment
Correcting fluids, inks, adhesives, compounds
Toner in photocopying machines