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Improve Air Quality to Make Your Workplace Healthier for Employees With Asthma

 

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 (swollen), 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.1 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. 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. Employers should make accommodations based on the needs of each person with asthma and the situation.

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 can cause negative health effects in people with asthma. (Some people with very sensitive airways begin to experience symptoms when the AQI is 51-100). On “orange or red alert” days, people with asthma should limit their time outdoors.

This color-coded AQI chart from AirNow can help you understand the AQI in your area. AirNow will report AQI each day with a color so you know if the air is unhealthy and how it can affect you.


Indoor air pollution
is often monitored less than outdoor pollution, but your indoor air can be more polluted than the outdoor air.

Indoor air pollution can be caused by:


Poor indoor air quality in the workplace also affects more than our lungs. It can also impact mental function, ability to focus, and productivity.2

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 airborne particles of flour. This can affect their lungs and cause occupational asthma.

To reduce work absences due to asthma, employers can improve air quality in the workplace by taking these 10 steps:

  1. Improve ventilation in indoor spaces and use appropriate and effective air cleaning and air filtration devices to remove small particles from the air.
  2. Create a policy for employees that discourages strong scents/odors (no heavy perfume, cologne, essential oils, potpourri, etc.).
  3. Provide appropriate masks for workers exposed to high levels of air pollution (such as N95 respirators).
  4. Schedule cleaning and dusting to occur when employees with asthma are not around.
  5. Use products that are CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly®.
  6. Reduce overall emissions, fuel burning, and exhaust fumes in and around the workplace.
  7. Encourage employees to go tobacco smoke free (offer incentives!) and create a no-smoking zone around the workplace.
  8. Reduce excess moisture that may be causing mold growth indoors.
  9. Use appropriate pest control to reduce cockroach and mouse infestation.
  10. Install air quality sensors to monitor your workplace indoor air quality.

10 steps to improve workplace air quality

Improving ventilation and filtration also helps reduce the spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

By improving the air quality of your workplace, it will improve the health of your employees, especially those with asthma.

Melanie Carver, Chief Mission Officer, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of AmericaMelanie Carver is the Chief Mission Officer at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. She leads the organization’s health communications, education, and community building to support people with allergies and asthma and improve health outcomes.



To improve indoor environments for people with asthma and allergies, we have developed strict standards and certify products that meet all the standards. Look for the CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® mark to confirm the product passed our standards to reduce exposure to allergens and improve air quality.

Visit aafa.org/certified to search for CERTIFIED products and learn more about the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program.


References
1. Barnett S and Numagambetov T. Costs of asthma in the United States: 2002-2007. JACI. 2011. Jan:127(1):145-152. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2010.10.020. http://www.jacionline.org/arti...(10)01634-9/abstract
2. Laurent, J. G. C., MacNaughton, P., Jones, E., Young, A. S., Bliss, M., Flanigan, S., Vallarino, J., Chen, L. J., Cao, X., & Allen, J. G. (2021, September 9). Associations between acute exposures to PM2.5 and carbon dioxide indoors and cognitive function in office workers: a multicountry longitudinal prospective observational study. IOP Science. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://iopscience.iop.org/art...088/1748-9326/ac1bd8.

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The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is the largest and oldest nonprofit patient organization dedicated to asthma and allergies. Our online community includes public blogs. To post a comment, you will need to register or sign in.

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Comments (6)

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@RSkalak, hugs on the lack of support from work. It sounds like your environmental allergies are tough to manage! The Asthma and Allergic community forums are a great place to get support from folks who have been there and done that!

I’ve never thought of improving the air quality at my work because I don’t get the right support for anything so I didn’t bother asking. I don’t have food allergies but I have a lot of environmental allergies and I take Flonase, Zyrtec, Fluticasone, Eye drops, and Benadryl at night just to sleep. I’d probably be a great candidate for Xolair! I also have asthma. It’s been interesting to say the least!

Rita Skalak

@jjtre I hear you about all of the scents these days.  Walking down the cleaning aisle of the grocery store is like an assault on my senses.

@5starbabez Welcome to posting.   How do you avoid your allergens?  Do you carry epinephrine?

Jen - environmental allergies, eczema

DH - environmental and drug allergies

DD1 - peanut allergy, environmental and drug allergies, eczema

DD2 - environmental and drug allergies, eczema

DD3 - environmental and drug allergies, eczema

DS - eczema

 



I suffer from asthma and eczema both my dad had it but now he doesn't i do i try my best to stay away from grilling and smoke and perfumes and foods that i get allergies from like fish and wheat and oranges and more u should never take these easy u should always be a wear of what u eat and sleep and breathe so take care and i am only 14yrs old but take care

Our family suffers from asthma triggered by fragrances and other chemicals.  We are so happy you are informing people that wearing fragrance or products/clothing that emit fragrance are deadly for many people with asthma.  We cannot go anywhere where we cannot leave if someone were to come in the room with "fragrance" known to be toxic chemicals.

Most importantly, our hearts break for children who are trapped in a classsroom all day.  Many laundry detergents/fabric softners emit persistent chemicals that make life miserable for asthmatic students!  Please raise public awareness that NO smell should be the norm! 

Jan Tredway

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