Indoor air pollution refers to the quality of air in and around buildings and/or structures. Indoor air pollution may affect the safety, health, and well-being of a building’s occupants, such as residential tenants and employees who work in offices located in commercial buildings. The pollutants that individuals may be exposed to while indoors can cause both short term and long term effects on their health.
To combat the risk of both short term and long term health effects caused by indoor air pollutants, the U.S. federal government has issued specific indoor air quality standards. States may also have their own laws that regulate indoor air quality standards, so long as they are as strict or stricter than the ones imposed by federal air quality regulations. Specifically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with developing these standards.
Some examples of how indoor air conditions can become polluted may include the use of:
- Toxic chemicals or cleaning solvents;
- Paint that contains mercury or is lead-based; and/or
- Asbestos or other dangerous building materials.
Some other ways that indoor air quality can become polluted is by regularly occurring pollen, dust, and/or mold; especially, in workplaces that are not properly cleaned. Employers who do not crack down on employees smoking in the workplace or too close to the work environment may also cause a reduction in indoor air quality standards. Additionally, some outdoor air pollutants may seep in and cause indoor air quality conditions to drop like pesticides.
To learn how you can recover damages for medical issues caused by poor air quality conditions in the workplace, you should speak to a local employment law attorney immediately for further legal advice.
What Health Issues Are Associated with Poor Air Quality?
Some examples of health issues that may be associated with poor air quality conditions include:
- Eyes, nose, and/or throat irritation;
- Headaches or dizzy spells;
- Drowsiness or extreme fatigue;
- Allergy flare-ups;
- Chemically induced or black mold poisoning;
- Different kinds of cancer;
- Heart disease; and/or
- Various types of respiratory illnesses or diseases.
Am I Entitled To Clean Air At Work?
In general, indoor air quality standards are governed by both federal and state laws. These regulations are important since encountering workplace air quality that is poor or below the set legal standards can pose serious health risks to workers and can cause severe medical conditions, such as emphysema or various other types of obstructive lung diseases.
As with most laws, state statutes on workplace air quality tend to reflect and expand on certain policies enacted under federal air quality laws. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) helps to oversee and enforce state policies on workplace air quality standards.
OSHA also provides a legal process for workers who wish to bring an indoor air quality lawsuit against their employer. Briefly, an indoor air quality lawsuit is simply a private legal action that is filed in civil court for the purposes of recovering some form of a monetary damages award.
Accordingly, workers are essentially entitled to clean air at work up to the level that is required by federal and/or state laws.
What Can I Do To Encourage My Employer To Improve Air Quality?
One of the first steps that a worker should take in order to encourage their employer to improve air quality conditions in the workplace is to discuss the issue directly with their employer. In some situations, an employer may not realize either how poor the air quality is in a particular work environment or the issue may be being caused by something that is easily fixable (e.g., calling a repairman if the air conditioner has stopped working).
A worker can also gently remind their employer that poor air quality may eventually lead to workers having to take lots of sick days to deal with the repercussions of working in poor air quality conditions. In turn, this can lead to a decrease in workers’ productivity as well as may cost an employer hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Alternatively, if a worker does not feel comfortable bringing up such issues with their employer themselves, then they may want to have a representative from their employer’s human resources department do so on their behalf.
In cases where the air quality is only affecting a particularly sensitive worker or a worker who has a documented medical condition, such as severe allergies, they may want to consider asking their physician to provide a doctor’s note that specifies their need for clean air quality conditions at work. If feasible, an employer may opt to relocate an employer to a different department or area within the company to help ease their daily suffering.
If none of the above options take care of a worker’s clean air quality issue, then they may need to take it one step further and pursue legal action against their employer by either:
- Filing a complaint with their local OSHA agency;
- Claiming workers’ compensation under their state program or a company policy; and/or
- Filing a private lawsuit in civil court.
Lastly, there are some instances in which a lawyer may be able to communicate or negotiate with a worker’s employer for cleaner air conditions in the workplace on their behalf.
What If My Employer Refuses To Comply With Clean Air Regulations?
A worker whose employer refuses to comply with clean air regulations may potentially be able to recover damages or other types of legal remedies. This can happen if the conditions in which they work are still causing them to become ill and forcing them to receive medical treatment on a regular basis. A worker should first attempt to discuss these issues with their employer before taking any legal action.
If an employer is still refusing to abide by clean air policies, then the worker should seek relief by reporting a workplace air quality issue to their local OSHA agency. In some instances, a worker may be able to claim workers’ compensation for their medical condition. Thus, a worker should also check to see if their condition is covered by the guidelines under their state’s workers’ compensation program.
If the workers’ compensation program in a particular state does not provide a remedy for poor workplace air quality conditions, or alternatively, if an investigation by OSHA does not sufficiently resolve a worker’s issue, then they may need to hire an employment lawyer and file a private lawsuit in civil court.
Some examples of potential legal remedies that a worker may be able to recover if their civil lawsuit is successful include:
- Economic damages;
- Noneconomic damages;
- Punitive damages; and/or
- An injunction.
In addition, a worker may also request that a court issue an order specifying that an employer must change their corporate policies and/or employee guidelines to comport with the state and federal laws on clean air regulations in the workplace.
Do I Need An Employment Lawyer?
If you are involved in a dispute with an employer over the air quality in your workplace, then it may be in your best interest to consult with a local workers compensation lawyer for further legal advice as soon as possible. An experienced employment lawyer will be able to apprise you of your health and safety rights in the workplace under the applicable federal and state regulations on clean air conditions.
Your lawyer will also be able to help you to navigate the somewhat complicated procedures associated with workplace air quality claims. In addition, your lawyer can assist you in drafting the requisite legal documents for your case and will be able to provide legal representation in civil court if it should become necessary to resolve your claim.
In addition, your lawyer may be able to help you join or initiate a class action lawsuit if a workplace air quality issue is affecting a large number of employees. Finally, your lawyer will be able to aid you in recovering any legal remedies that you may be rightfully entitled to as a result of your suffering.