Sniffing out bad air

By: April 27th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

A complaint from a patient or employee at your healthcare facility is all it takes to signal a potential problem with indoor air quality (IAQ).

First, try to obtain specific information. Be precise about the incident’s time and location. Investigate whether it is an isolated or recurring event. Is it noticed mainly by patients, employees, or both?

In the meantime, consider the following tips adapted from HCPro’s Hospital Safety Center:

  • Test for carbon dioxide, humidity, and temperature levels in the complainant’s area. Use devices that have a time and date stamp. If the carbon dioxide levels are higher toward the end of the day and then decrease when everyone leaves the building, you most likely have an air circulation problem.
  • Check your carpet cleaners as a likely source of irritants, as well as furniture with formaldehyde finishes.
  • Monitor areas in which chemicals such as glutaraldehyde are used or stored or wherever medical equipment is cleaned and disinfected.
  • Use stationary air-sampling monitors and air-quality testing badges, at least initially, when testing for chemical exposure.
  • Don’t ignore patient and staff complaints, even if they focus on temporary odors associated with vehicle exhaust, deliveries, construction, or even food preparation. The odors could indicate ventilation problems.

Walk-through inspections help you acquire a good overview of worker activities and facility functions that may affect IAQ, and you don’t have to be an industrial hygienist or an environmental engineer to conduct one.

Download the checklist on the Tools page, originally appearing in the May 2008 Medical Environment Update, to conduct your next IAQ walk-through inspection.

hcpro-audio-conference-logosmDid you find this advice helpful? Learn how you can get all your OSHA questions answered by registering for OSHA Healthcare Advisor’s “Q&A Roundtable: Solutions to Your Compliance Challenges” audioconference, Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 1:00-2:00 p.m. (Eastern).


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