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Industrial Hygiene

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) & Odors in the Workplace

At times complaints arise when occupants notice a change in their working environment and questions of "air quality" arise. When a concern is raised, an indoor air quality investigation is conducted, which initially examines the current conditions that occupants are experiencing. The investigation includes a walk-through survey, interviews with occupants and consultation with facilities management on the operation of the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system.

What to do in the event of an unidentified odor in the workplace

In the event of an unexpected and/or unusual odor, the source of the odor should be identified as soon as possible. Begin by asking other room or building occupants about activities or equipment that could be the source. If the smell is likened to diesel exhaust, familiarize yourself with the fresh air intakes for the building to determine if an idling vehicle could be the cause. Dry sink traps are often the cause of a "sewer-like" smell and can be prevented by occasionally running water down them. If you believe that the smell or event that you are experiencing may be related to a gas leak or fires in the building (you smell gas or see smoke) call 911 and activate the fire alarm immediately. Otherwise, in order to document complaints of this nature and allow for efficient communication and corrective action, it is critical that occupants of the building take the following steps:

  • Notify your supervisor of the problem and call the Department of the Physical Plant (434-924-2267, Medical Center OR 434-924-1777, Academic) and report the complaint or concern and request a follow-up from HSPP personnel on the nature of the odor by indicating your building and room number and providing a contact name and number.
  • Call Environmental Health & Safety (434-982-4911) and repeat the information.
  • Use the attached "Workplace Complaint Log" to record your complaints and document who was contacted. It will assist EHS when investigating the specific nature of an event. You may be asked to fax your log to the Industrial Hygienist (434-982-4915).

Click Here to download a copy of the Workplace Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Log.

More information

Indoor air quality problems arise in non-industrial buildings when there is an inadequate amount of clean, outdoor air being provided for the amount of air contaminants present in that space. Air contaminants sources can be biological in nature (mold, dust mites and other allergens), or chemical (formaldehyde, carbon monoxide) and can originate either inside or outside a building. Physical factors (temperature and relative humidity) can contribute to perceptions of poor air quality as well. Air sampling is rarely undertaken, as often, adjustments to the HVAC system or better housekeeping are all that is needed. While the University aims to provide a clean, healthy environment where the majority of people work at their highest levels of productivity, it cannot provide complete comfort to 100% of the population due to individual sensitivities.