October is National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to address air quality in the workplace.
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes airways to become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. For adults, asthma is one of the leading causes of missing work. Adults miss more than 14 million days of work each year. Employers can improve work life for people with asthma by improving the air quality of the workplace.
Poor indoor or outdoor air quality can worsen asthma.
Small airborne particles cause serious air quality problems. They are found in haze, smoke and airborne dust. People with asthma are at greater risk from breathing in small particles. The particles can make asthma worse. Both long-term and short-term exposure can cause health problems. Some of these include reduced lung function and more asthma attacks.
The EPA reports outdoor air pollution levels using the Air Quality Index (AQI). AQI reports the level of ozone and other air pollutants. When the AQI is 101 or higher, it is dangerous for people with asthma. On these days, people with asthma should limit their time outdoors.
Indoor air pollution can be caused by:
- Dust mites
- Toxic fumes from products and manufacturing
- Poor ventilation and filtration
- Tobacco smoke
- Polluted outdoor air
Any work that causes small particles to enter the air may also create poor air quality in the workplace. For example, bakers may inhale small particles of flour in the air. This can affect their lungs.
To reduce work absences due to asthma, employers can improve air quality in the workplace by taking these steps:
- Reduce excess moisture that may be causing mold growth
- Increase or improve ventilation
- Use HEPA air filters to remove small particles from the air
- Create a policy for employees that discourages strong scents/odors (no heavy perfume, cologne, essential oils, potpourri, etc.)
- Schedule cleaning and dusting to occur when the person with asthma is not around
- Encourage employees to go tobacco smoke free (offer incentives!) and create a no-smoking zone around the workplace
- Use appropriate pest control to reduce cockroach infestation
- Use products that are Certified asthma & allergy friendly®
Asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers and employees can work together to improve workplace air quality. Make accommodations based on the needs of each person with asthma and the situation.
By improving the air quality of your workplace, it will improve the health of your employees, especially those with asthma.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Medical Law Perspectives Reports.
Melanie Carver is the Vice President of Community Health and Services at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. She leads the organization’s digital health communications and community building to support and educate people with allergies and asthma to empower them to improve their health.