Maintaining good air quality in industrial firms, as well as keeping up with changing air quality regulations, is a major responsibility for manufacturers. Through the guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or sometimes USEPA), manufacturers have also been made to understand what effects poor air quality can create.
OSHA, in particular, passed a directive, called the “General Duty Clause.” This directive requires manufacturers to provide a safe and healthy workplace, as well as adhere to air contaminant requirements, one of which is to maintain the presence of specific toxic substances, like manganese and hexavalent chromium, within permissible exposure levels (PELs). According to the website RoboVent, one of the EPA’s sets of rules that is relevant to manufacturing, on the other hand, is the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). These rules establish nine metal fabrication and finishing “source categories.” These include operations such as “Electrical and Electronics Equipment Finishing Operations” and “Iron and Steel Forging.” The EPA’s purpose for this list was to reduce “Metal Fabrication Hazardous Air Pollutants (MFHAP) of compounds of metals such as Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Manganese and Nickel.” The EPA has laid out the requirements and methods of compliance, much like OSHA has. EPA regulations also limit how much contaminated air a facility can exhaust to the outside.
The known most common effects of poor air quality in manufacturing facilities due to (airborne dusts and contaminants) include: reduced concentration levels, higher error rates and increased health-related absenteeism, educed productivity, difficulty with employee recruitment and retention and increased hiring and training costs.
With regard to productivity, different studies show similar results: that poor air quality increases error rates, which results to decreased output. Based on studies conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, on the other hand, after improving their indoor air quality, factories saw increases in worker productivity and quality of product produced. Based on EPA records, poor indoor air quality causes six additional lost workdays per year for every ten employees. Healthcare expenses and lost productivity due to poor air quality in the workplace also add up to tens of billions of dollars each year.
Absenteeism, meanwhile, directly affects productivity. With the negative health impacts of dust and weld fumes, causing eyes, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory ailments and other very serious illnesses, such as cancer, workers are either forced to stop work for a short break or take days off from work due to an illness. If diagnosed with a serious ailment, besides being absent, they may also decide to file for workers’ comp benefits, which means higher insurance payments for their employer.
Maintaining good air quality is actually not only for the protection of workers. It also plays a major factor when it comes to recruitment. With the increase of manufacturing firms and the bringing back of manufacturing jobs to U.S. communities, many manufacturers now face the problem of shortage of new workers. However, it is clear today’s younger generation is no longer drawn to the manufacturing industry as the young of the past were. They simply do not want to find themselves in a dirty, unhealthy and/or unsafe workplace. Due to this, hiring has become a real challenge.
Additionally, there is also the issue of retention. Many of today’s skilled workers no longer hold onto jobs which they feel can threaten their health. Thus, if the environment has poor work conditions, like poor air quality, many do not to just walk away and search for better job offers.
By improving work condition, however, especially air quality, issues with regard to productivity and personnel will most likely be easily solved and, when employee retention improves, the results will obviously be reduced hiring and training costs.