The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) launched a health and safety program called "Work Shouldn't Hurt" which stresses the importance of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). This coalition came about largely as a response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. The push to reduce energy consumption resulted in "such strategies as sealing windows, reducing the amount of outdoor ventilation systems, and shutting down ventilation systems periodically. This approach cut down on energy consumption, but it brought an epidemic of "sick building syndrome."
Sick building syndrome is directly correlated to inadequate ventilation, and when inadequate ventilation collides with pollutants such as molds, pollen, exhaust fumes and many others, it can bring on an extensive list of physical symptoms."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the overarching nationwide authority for IAQ standards in public school facilities, but it is really up to the state and county levels to ensure things get done. So, here are some things you can do to prevent "sick building syndrome" in your facility.
Implement these tips to Improve IAQ in your facility:
- Do a walk-around of your school (or classroom). Look for signs of dampness, water, or water stains. Damp indoor environments lead to the potential growth of mold which has been associated with many serious health issues including asthma, hypersensitivity, and sinusitis. Common sources of moisture in buildings include: plumbing; roof and window leaks; flooding; and condensation on cold surfaces, e.g. pipe sweating. Pay special attention to ceiling tiles-which indicate a possible roof or HVAC leak-and areas around sinks and bathrooms.
- Do not block air vents or grilles. Place office furniture, equipment, and supplies in locations that will allow for the best air circulation. If you notice a decrease in temperature or air flow (even when the HVAC system is set at adequate levels) notify your facility maintenance team. Over time air ducts and coils can become clogged with dirt and debris. This provides a feeding ground for contaminates such as mold to grow inside the ducts.
- Have regular Air Duct andCoil Cleanings. According to The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) contaminants are pulled into the HVAC system and re-circulated 5 to 7 times per day, on average. Over time, this re-circulation causes a build-up of contaminants in the ductwork that could cause serious problems for people with respiratory health conditions, autoimmune disorders or some environmental allergies. In addition, if you are noticing a musty-mildew smell coming from the system, hire a certified professional and request an anti-microbial sanitation to accompany your duct cleaning. The sanitation specifically targets and eliminates mold spores and odors within the system.
- Maintain a good working relationship with the building management on indoor environmental issues. Make it a priority to notify the building or facility manager immediately if you suspect an IAQ problem. The National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) responds to requests from employers, employees, and government agencies. Visit their website to request a workplace assessment if you suspect your facility's environment is affecting the health of occupants.
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