Draft guidance on improving indoor air quality in office buildings: Overview
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The purpose of this guidance is to summarize ways to remediate, maintain and improve indoor air quality in office buildings. This guidance provides practical recommendations to address and respond to potential IAQ problems, including guidance for reducing pollutant sources and properly operating ventilation systems, sample checklists, and considerations when hiring a professional to remediate IAQ issues. This guidance aligns with what is available internationally and is intended for the employers, and building owners/operators, maintenance staff, urban planners, as well as public health professionals.
The quality of the air in an office building is the result of the complex interactions between the ventilation system, the building (such as age, condition, component materials, structure, and envelope), the climate, the quality of the outdoor air, the furnishings and products present, the work processes, and the occupants and their activities. Some factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) may be related to building stewardship activities such as maintenance and housekeeping; inadequate ventilation system design or maintenance; or selection and use of equipment, furnishings, building materials, office supplies and cleaning chemicals.
This guide addresses issues relating to IAQ that are common in an office building setting, while promoting good prevention practices. It provides guidance to help manage and resolve IAQ issues promptly and encourages consistency and transparency throughout the IAQ assessment, investigation, and resolution process. Good operational practices can prevent many IAQ issues. However, if IAQ issues do arise, they can be addressed by implementing corrective actions after identifying the potential cause(s). This document also provides guidance for maintaining good IAQ once corrective actions have been taken.
This guide applies to any size office building in Canada. It applies to non-industrial and non-residential workplace settings and includes buildings with meeting rooms, lunchrooms, and small kitchens, and which have a limited number of hazardous products on site.
While this guide provides advice for employers and building operators to help resolve IAQ issues, there may be situations that will require the services of a person qualified in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) or in occupational hygiene.
Preventing IAQ issues before they arise and addressing issues as soon as they are identified is the best strategy for building operators and employers. Good practices to maintain IAQ include the following:
- Eliminate or reduce sources of contaminants. Sources of contamination may be present indoors (such as combustion, cleaning products, furnishings, moisture resulting in mould, or odours from occupants or activities) or outdoors near the air intake vent (such as smoking areas, vehicle idling).
- Maintain protocols to reduce viral and bacterial transmission between building occupants.
- Ensure effective ventilation system design and use. Ventilation can improve air quality by removing and diluting contaminants and replacing the indoor air with filtered and conditioned outdoor air. Verify ventilation rates and make sure these rates remain relevant with respect to any changes in occupant levels, renovations, redesigns, or how the space is utilized.
- Develop and implement a preventive ventilation system maintenance program. Maintain the ventilation system and replace filters on a set schedule to help reduce contaminants and maintain temperature and moisture levels.
- Install effective filtration units or filters as part of the ventilation system. Remove contaminants through appropriate air cleaners or filters. Select the correct filter efficiency for the contaminants present and the ventilation system.
- Use proactive housekeeping practices, including choosing cleaning products with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and using a vacuuming system with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
- Control moisture and humidity levels and ensure early intervention if mould is suspected. Remediate flooding moisture and damage, clean mould appropriately, and prevent reoccurrence by determining the cause of the moisture and addressing the issue.
- Implement workplace procedures to consider IAQ issues throughout procurement and renovations. Assess the potential mismatch of the intended space and occupant activities. The initial design of the space may affect ventilation distribution and air exchanges.
- Conduct training and education for building operators, employers, and occupants. Training should include how to identify a potential IAQ issue and how to report IAQ concerns.
Indoor air quality is considered an environmental determinant of health. Exposure to several pollutants commonly found in indoor air has been associated with adverse health effects. Occupants who work in buildings with adequate ventilation have reported better air quality and health as compared to those working in poorly ventilated spaces (Allen et al. 2015). Higher ventilation rates in indoor environments are associated with a reduced prevalence of adverse health effects (Sundell et al. 2010). A healthy indoor environment is one that contributes to productivity and comfort, protects the health and well-being of occupants, and is an important health and safety consideration for workplaces such as office buildings.
Many of the recommended control mechanisms that aim to improve and maintain good IAQ are also applicable when considering how to reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission. These are often the responsibility of the employers and the building owners, operators, and maintenance staff. However, other factors are due to the activities undertaken by the building's occupants. Common activities such as using printing and photocopying equipment, wearing perfumes and fragrances, blocking ventilation system vents or improperly using equipment can generate odours and contaminants that affect IAQ. Through awareness and education, building owners, operators and occupants can help prevent many IAQ issues from developing.
This document is an update to the "Indoor Air Quality in Office Buildings: A Technical Document" (Health Canada 1995).
Note on guidance documents in general
Guidance documents provide assistance to industry and health care professionals on how to comply with governing statutes and regulations. They also provide guidance to Heath Canada staff on how mandates and objectives should be met fairly, consistently and effectively.
Guidance documents are administrative, not legal, instruments. This means that flexibility can be applied. However, to be acceptable, alternate approaches to the principles and practices described in this document must be supported by adequate justification. They should be discussed in advance with the relevant program area to avoid the possible finding that applicable statutory or regulatory requirements have not been met.
As always, Health Canada reserves the right to request information or material, or define conditions not specifically described in this document, to help us assess the safety, efficacy, or quality of a health product. We are committed to ensuring that such requests are justifiable and that decisions are clearly documented.
This document should be read in conjunction with the accompanying notice and the relevant sections of other applicable guidance documents.
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