By: Megan Ray Nichols
Even the cleanest of manufacturing facilities are subject to poor or hazardous indoor air quality (AIQ). With pollutants emanating from numerous sources, including raw materials, production processes and industrial-strength cleaning products, it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. A proactive manufacturer can take steps to protect workers from such dangers and improve the overall air quality of their factories and warehouses.
Identifying the Most Toxic Working Environments
Manufacturers are a critical part of nearly any industry. Automotive, retail and even food packaging operations all depend on manufacturing in some way or another.
With so many employees who could be exposed to toxic working environments on a daily basis, as well as the end-consumers who depend on the cleanliness of their goods to maintain their own health, it’s critical owners do everything in their power to promote a healthy workplace and IAQ.
Avoiding the Common Causes of Poor IAQ
Some companies are more hazardous than others. The automotive sector has been known for unhealthy working conditions. Plants that deal with industrial-strength adhesives, treated wood or upholstery are also at a significant risk. Improper ventilation, or toxic air coming in from the outside environment, is also a common contributor to poor IAQ.
Compressed air systems are commonly used in manufacturing. This hardware must remain clean, too, especially when working with consumer food or sensitive laboratory equipment. Failure to maintain this equipment results in over $3 billion in wasted utility expenses per year.
To avoid these pitfalls in the first place, make sure to clean all your manufacturing equipment on a regular basis. Utilize natural ventilation as much as possible and open windows when applicable.
Responding to Early Warning Signs
Workers who are consistently sick, drowsy or fatigued may be experiencing early signs of poor IAQ. This could result in poor performance, repeated absences and, in some cases, an increased number of health insurance claims. However, proactive managers and business owners don’t have to wait until such maladies occur to diagnose an unhealthy working environment.
The presence of mold should be considered a surefire warning sign. In cases like this, immediate action should be taken and professional assistance should be sought. Air that smells bad or feels stuffy may be indicative of mold, which typically occurs in moist areas with little to no ventilation.
Some pollutants, such as radon, can be found in both the home and at the workplace. Hazards like these can be identified and diagnosed via modern testing devices, and the offending sources can later be removed by a professional. Similar hazards include asbestos — which is more prevalent in older construction — and wood or sawdust.
Purifying the air within your facilities can go a long way in reducing the overall amount of pollutants, but it won’t remove them all. Moreover, certain air purification systems are only effective against specific types of hazards. You’ll need to pick the one that best matches your needs, but some shops will require two or more systems. Typical options include standard HEPA filters, activated carbon, negative ionization and ozone filtration.
Maintaining a Healthy IAQ for Years to Come
As a manufacturer, maintaining an acceptable IAQ throughout all your facilities should be a top priority. Not only can this prevent your employees from developing common illnesses such as headache and fatigue, it can reduce the potential for your workers to develop more serious cond