Indoor air quality (IAQ) describes the characteristics of breathable air which affects human well-being, comfort or productivity. Poor IAQ causes a gamut of short and long term health issues from headaches and drowsiness at the milder end to throat infections and respiratory illnesses at the other. Major factors that contribute to poor air quality include inadequate ventilation, poorly maintained HVAC systems, vehicle emissions, solvents, and cleaning products.
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. This term describes organic chemicals that easily become vapours or gases at ordinary room temperature. It is the tendency of these compounds to rapidly evaporate or sublimate into the surrounding air that gives VOCs their “volatile” status. While harmful VOCs are typically not acutely toxic they have compounding long-term effects on human health.
IAQ has been identified by the EPA as one of the top five most urgent environmental risks to public health1. Since the majority of people spend around 90% of their time in indoor environments such as offices, factories or education establishments, the long term effects of exposure to indoor VOCs is of concern to all.
In offices, common sources of VOCs are new carpets, furnishings or wall coverings. Office equipment such as photocopiers or printers may also contribute. In non-office environments VOC sources may include: manufacturing processes, cleaning procedures or hazardous substance storage.
In a closed environment where air is stagnant or recirculated VOC accumulation can be significant. If this is the case in your workplace, the issue of VOCs needs to be addressed.
Declining productivity, increased absenteeism, fines/prosecution for non-compliance and class action by employees are all possible outcomes if businesses are not proactive on the issue of VOCs. In its 2010 report Guidelines For Indoor Air Quality, the World Health Organisation noted that “monitoring outdoor concentrations of air pollutants is standard practice in many countries but routine monitoring of indoor concentrations hardly exists.”2 Yet being unaware of the problem does not preclude you from being liable.
In a lawsuit filed against the owner-operator of a building in Washington D.C. plaintiffs reported a range of health problems allegedly caused by the building's new carpeting where the plaintiffs had worked. A jury agreed, awarding $950,000 to the plaintiffs.3
In June 1995, a jury in Polk County, Florida, awarded the county $25.8 million in a suit against an insurance company that had indemnified against construction defects in a courthouse building that suffered from sick-building syndrome. The culprit in the building's design was a faulty heat vent air conditioning system. Fungi began growing throughout the structure as a result, causing serious health effects for about 80 percent of the building's 580 workers.3
See more recent high profile workplace VOC related lawsuits
Threshold Limit Value (TLV) is the supposed limit a person can be exposed to a certain VOC without experiencing adverse effects. TLV is measured in ppm (parts per million) for gases or mg/m³ (milligrams per cubic meter) for subatomic particles, such as smoke.
Low TVOC (Total Volatile Organic Compound) concentration levels is considered to be less than 0.3mg/m3. Acceptable levels of TVOC ranges from 0.3 to 0.5mg/m3 of concentration. From 0.5mg/m3 upwards TVOC concentration levels is considered to be considerable or high. According to the Australian Building Code Board’s IAQ handbook the maximum contaminant limits for TVOC specified in the IAQ Verification Methods is 500 μg/m3 averaged over one hour4. Internationally recognized RESET Indoor Air Quality quality standard determining IAQ specifies safe indoor environmental limits for TVOC.
Monitoring IAQ is the key to understanding what is in the air that you and your employees breathe, enabling you to respond and maintain healthy quality levels in your work environments. The RESET standard specifying Air for Commercial Interiors is a standard for indoor air quality which sets targets for daily IAQ performance as well as standards for air quality monitoring. The EPA, OSHA and other regulatory organisations around world have strict critieria for IAQ compliance.
Monitoring IAQ ensures a healthy environment for all resulting in optimum productivity, fewer sick days and mitigated risk of litigation. However, getting started with monitoring IAQ in your business can be problematic.
Firstly, it may be unclear exactly what hardware is required to create a complete system to meet your needs. Secondly, the vast choice of sensors and other components makes it difficult to compare and evaluate which are best for you – making it hard to be confident you are purchasing the correct items and that they will be compatible with eachother. Thirdly, the knowledge required for installation may be beyond the scope of an electrician or other local tradesman (it can also be difficult to know who to call to carry out this work).
Lastly, with a monitoring system built from products from different vendors, who do you call when your system is experiencing issues? Ad hoc solutions can complicate the problem-solving process as vendors may implicate other vendors.
Partnering with a single company that understands your IAQ monitoring system from tip-to-tail simplifies system selection, purchasing, installation and support. Define Instruments offers scalable IAQ kits for a range of monitoring scenarios containing everything you need to get started. Kits are easy to install and require minimal technical knowledge and set-up time.
The kit contains: the IAQ-VTH sensor with cable(s), quick connector(s) and device cable(s). The Nimbus IoT/Zen IoT Cloud Edge Interface hardware is sold separately. As well as the hardware in the box, the kit includes access to Define Cloud Services (DCS) where you visualize real-time data, plot monitored levels over time and run reports. Most importantly DCS is where you set up alarm notifications to alert key staff members if readings approach unsafe levels. Additionally you can configure hardware to execute control actions in response. e.g. activating or deactivating lights, pumps, fans, sirens, or other machinery. Whether you need to monitor IAQ at single or multiple locations, Define Instruments has a kit suited to your application.
An electronics manufacturing plant has several production lines on which soldering and conformal coating spraying is conducted. To comply with workplace health and safety requirements and to keep employees safe from potentially harmful VOC levels the IAQ-VTH 3 sensor kit is installed. Sensors are placed by the wave soldering machine, the SMT reflow oven and the conformal coating spray area. Installation is carried out by a local electrician in under 30 minutes.
Company management monitor live data from both desktop and mobile devices and study trends over time through graphing visualization and reporting. Line managers receive alarm notifications when VOC concentrations in factory air exceed safe levels. In response the monitoring hardware activates a warning light to alert staff of harmful VOC levels and switches on an additional fan to reduce harmful VOC levels quickly.
Data is stored in the Cloud for retrieval of records to satisfy compliance inspectors at any point. Historic data can be displayed to show time-of-day peaks in VOC levels and trends in VOC accumulation, empowering management to adjust operations to reduce or erradicate occurences of harmful VOC events.
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