Indoor air - Yleistä

 

General information on topic

Poor indoor air quality is known to cause, for example,

  • respiratory tract Infections
  • nasal congestion or discharge
  • itching, burning or irritation of the eyes
  • throat hoarseness or dryness
  • general fatigue and headaches, and
  • on rare occasions, fever and muscle and joint pain.
Chronically poor indoor air quality is a health hazard.

Chronically poor indoor air quality typically causes symptoms inside an affected building, which dissipate relatively soon after exiting the building. Symptoms can vary considerably from one person to the next, while some people can escape symptoms altogether.

Poor indoor air quality can have many causes

Poor indoor air quality in a workplace can have many reasons, and a careful investigation is needed to resolve the issue. The following factors, among others, are known to contribute to poor indoor air quality:

  • ineffective or insufficient ventilation
  • release of mould spores from damp structures
  • flooring materials’ reactions to moisture
  • volatile unhealthy emissions from construction and interior decoration materials and furniture
  • particles released from uncoated ventilation duct dampers and soundproofing boards
  • goods stored in the workplace, and
  • inadequate cleaning.

Indoor air quality issues must be tackled methodically

Every workplace must have a procedure in place for addressing problems with indoor air quality. This requires a methodical approach from employers, including

  • drawing up a policy for reporting problems with indoor air quality and communicating it to staff
  • setting up a working group on indoor air quality, if necessary
  • consulting occupational health care professionals
  • carrying out a thorough inspection of the building and analysing the results with the help of qualified specialists
  • drawing up a plan and a schedule of corrective actions and implementing the same
  • monitoring the impact of the actions taken on workers’ health, and
  • disseminating information openly and promptly.

Indoor air - Työntekijälle

 

Instructions for employee

Let your employer and occupational safety and health representative know if you suspect that there is an issue with indoor air quality at your workplace. Your employer has a duty to keep both you and the occupational safety and health representative up to date on any actions that have been or will be taken to address the issue. Your employer must also let you know if they deem it unnecessary to take any action.

You should let your employer and occupational safety and health representative know if you notice any symptoms that you believe could be due to poor indoor air quality at your workplace. Your employer will then need to investigate whether your symptoms are caused by something at your workplace. You should also talk to your employer’s occupational health care provider about any symptoms. Occupational health care professionals can propose changes to allow you to continue working in the space that is causing you symptoms.

If your symptoms are found to be caused by poor indoor air quality at your workplace, your employer must take steps to find out the cause of the issue and eliminate it. Your employer is also responsible for ensuring that your health is not put at risk while the investigation is carried out and the remedial action implemented.

It takes time to carry out a thorough investigation, draw up a report and a plan of corrective actions, and to implement the plan. You can ask your line manager or occupational safety and health representative for updates on the situation and when solutions are expected.

Indoor air - Työnantajalle

 

Instructions for employer

Health hazards posed by poor indoor air quality must be eliminated proactively

Many issues can be prevented by careful planning and the right choice of construction materials. Emission-free building and interior decoration materials should be favoured, proper ventilation ensured and attention given to efficient engineering solutions in respect of, for example, drainage. Buildings also need to be systematically maintained. The effectiveness of ventilation must be ensured by clearing any blockages, and regular cleaning is essential.

Any leaks must be addressed immediately and the affected structures dried in order to prevent microbial growth. As a rule, any damaged materials should be replaced. The cause must be investigated and repairs carried out to prevent any recurrence of the problem.

In the event that the building is leased, the employer must contact the landlord to agree on repairs and maintenance. The employer is always ultimately responsible for their workers’ health. The employer can terminate the lease agreement if the conditions in the building are obviously putting workers’ health at risk.

It is the employer’s duty to ensure that conditions in the workplace do not pose a risk to workers’ health.

Health hazards must be eliminated without delay and the impacts of the remedial action monitored

It is the employer’s duty to ensure that there are procedures in place to prevent any harmful effects on health resulting from poor indoor air quality and to address any issues.

If workers are found to be suffering from poor indoor air quality at the workplace, the employer must take any necessary steps to prevent exposure and eliminate the causes.

Procedure for addressing indoor air quality issues in the workplace

It is the employer’s duty to

  • consult with their occupational health care provider or other health care specialists to establish whether any symptoms of workers are due to their work
  • determine in cooperation with their occupational health care provider which workers could potentially continue to
  • work in the affected building without risking their health and on which conditions
  • prevent the exposure of any workers who cannot work in the affected building without risking their health until a specialist has established by means of tests or measurements that the exposure agents have been eliminated
  • comprehensively study the condition of the building by reliable means and establish the effects of, for example, high-risk structures, damp, the condition of the ventilation system, cleanliness and the condition of interior decoration materials, on indoor air quality
  • carefully plan repairs, including solutions such as efficient extractor fans and partitions to prevent the spread of dust and noise, for example, to ensure a healthy work environment for construction workers and others who work in the building during the repairs, if temporary relocation is not possible
  • carry out the repairs as planned
  • ensure that workspaces are cleaned thoroughly afterwards, and
  • follow up on the effectiveness of the remedial actions and their impact on workers’ health in cooperation with their occupational health care provider.

The employer’s comprehensive study of the condition of the building should incorporate moisture measurements and, if necessary, dismantling to examine the extent of any structural damage. Employers who do not have the necessary expertise to carry out these kinds of investigations should outsource the job to a competent specialist in order to determine the cause and severity of the issue. Samples also need to be taken of the air inside the building and the materials used in interior decoration and structural solutions, and the samples analysed for volatile organic compounds (VOC), micro-organisms and fibres, dust and particulates, for example.

Setting up a working group on indoor air quality is often a good idea. In most cases, these kinds of working groups consist of line managers, representatives of the property owner and the maintenance company, the employer’s occupational safety and health manager and the occupational safety and health representative, occupational health care professionals and a representative of the affected workers. External specialists can also be invited to the working group’s meetings.

Open and timely communication is crucial

Employers can prevent rumours by communicating openly about any investigations into indoor air quality issues and the progress of remedial action. If information about how indoor air quality issues are being dealt with is withheld, workers may think that their employer is not taking their symptoms seriously even if the employer has in fact taken steps to address the issue.

It is important to remember that details about individual employees’ health constitute classified information under the Finnish Personal Data Act. Information about individual workers’ health cannot be shared with other workers. Only health care professionals can determine whether workers’ symptoms are caused by something in their workplace.

In order to keep workers properly informed about the progress of steps taken to address indoor air quality issues, employers should give them regular updates on

  • what is known
  • what is not known
  • what will be done to remedy the situation
  • when will remedial action be taken
  • what will happen next, and
  • how the impact of remedial action will be monitored.

Indoor air - Lainsäädäntö

 

Legislation

Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002)

  • Section 8 – Employer’s general duty to exercise care
  • Section 10 – Analysis and assessment of the risks at work
  • Section 32 – Structural and functional safety and health of the workplace
  • Section 33 – Ventilation of workplaces and volume of workrooms
  • Section 40 – Biological agents

Occupational Health Care Act (1383/2001)

  • Section 5 – Occupational health care professionals and experts
  • Section 12 – Content of occupational health care

Government Decree on Safety and Health Requirements in Workplaces (577/2003, in Finnish)

  • Section 2 – Employers’ general obligations
  • Section 9 – Capacity and ventilation of workspaces

Act on Commercial Leases (482/1995, in Finnish)

  • Section 50 – Tenant’s right to terminate the lease

Indoor air - Oikeuden päätökset

 

Court decisions and precedents

The Supreme Court of Finland found in a case in 1998 (KKO:1998:22, text in Finnish) that a teacher had contracted occupational allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis after working in a school between 1980 and 1993 that was later revealed to have high levels of mould and airborne mould spores as a result of leaks, structural damp and inadequate air conditioning. The Court concluded that the teacher’s health issues were occupational diseases that had been caused by long-term exposure to high levels of mould in the school building and that the teacher was consequently entitled to compensation.

Indoor air - Muualla Tyosuojelu.fissä

Indoor air - Sanasto

Glossary

Indoor air quality issue A health hazard resulting from poor indoor air quality in a building or a part of a building. Examples of causes include structural defects, inadequate maintenance, damp and mould resulting from leaks, and chemical reactions of building materials. Poor indoor air quality can also be due to organic dust, articles inside the building or emissions from processes.
Working group on indoor air quality A working group composed of specialists of different fields and representatives of the occupiers of the affected building, tasked with planning and coordinating the process by which indoor air quality issues are addressed and analysing the findings of investigations and recommended actions. The working group is also responsible for planning and coordinating how information about the process is communicated to different parties. Many local authorities and large organisations also have a coordination committee for indoor air quality to draw up investigation and communication policies, run training courses and monitor the progress of remedial action.
Exposure In the context of occupational safety and health, ‘exposure’ refers to workers being exposed to unwanted or harmful agents at work. Exposure agents can be chemical, biological (e.g. micro-organisms or cells) or physical (e.g. vibration, radiation, thermal conditions or electrical currents). Exposure can occur internally or externally. Internal exposure refers to exposure agents being absorbed through the skin or entering the body through broken skin or the eyes, inhalation or ingestion and affecting the body from the inside. External exposure refers to exposure agents affecting the body from the outside (e.g. radiation).
User survey User surveys are designed to identify the causes of poor indoor air quality or structural damp in order to focus remedial action in the right areas of the building. They include questions about users’ observations of damp or mould in the building and the underlying reasons. Users are also asked about their experiences of indoor air quality in the building, including their views on temperature, draughts, odours and other potential nuisances. The surveys are not used to collect information about workers’ symptoms. In respect of symptoms, the only objective is to determine whether any symptoms that workers may be experiencing could be linked to spending time in the building. User surveys are anonymous in order to protect respondents’ privacy. However, each respondent is first asked to identify the room or workstation where they primarily work in order to pinpoint the locations of any problems that are identified.
Indoor air quality survey Indoor air quality surveys are used to collect more detailed information about indoor air quality in connection with various kinds of research projects or if an indoor air quality issue has been identified as well as to find out more about workers’ symptoms. These kinds of surveys can also be used to study the effectiveness of any remedial action taken. The most common type of indoor air quality survey in Finland is the MM-40 questionnaire, which was developed at Örebro University Hospital in Sweden. It is important to survey everyone who can potentially be affected by the issue. Interpreting the answers requires specialist expertise. As the respondents are asked to provide details about their health, the answers are confidential. Any symptoms reported by respondents are analysed on a general level and not as specific diseases.
Engineering survey A systematic investigation of the structure of a building to identify any high-risk engineering solutions and the location and extent of any structural damage and to determine their impact on indoor air quality. In most cases, the survey consists of an assessment of the health of the building and a structural survey. The causes of any structural damage are also studied and the need to dismantle damaged structures and replace materials assessed. The objective is to come up with recommendations as to how the damage can be repaired and the causes eliminated. The findings are used as a basis for planning repairs.