Warehouse air can contain dangerous amounts of pollutants. Fumes from machinery and industrial processes as well as emissions from forklifts and trucks are often present inside a warehouse. Toxic mold can also be a problem if there are poorly ventilated areas that are chronically damp.
But it’s just a warehouse, right? Simply a place of temporary storage as goods rotate in and out. So why does the air quality even matter?
Warehouse air quality matters because, while it may be temporary storage, it’s a long-term workplace. Employees breathe the air in a warehouse for 8 to 12 hours a day every day, year in and year out.
Yes, poor air quality can damage inventory stored in a warehouse and cut into profits, but it’s more likely to hurt people than product. More than you might realize, warehouse air quality can affect an employee's ability to work. Poor air quality can mean higher health care costs, lower productivity and an escalating employee turnover rate.
Many factors can contribute to poor air quality in a warehouse. Among the most common are:
Air pollutants are invisible, but with prolonged exposure can cause serious health issues such as respiratory diseases and even cancer.
How do you know if you have poor air quality in a warehouse? Pay attention to those who spend the most time there. Workers in a warehouse with poor air quality may complain about unpleasant or musty odors or simply that the building feels hot and stuffy.
Some workers may have symptoms at work that improve or subside when they leave work, like headaches or fatigue. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath can be symptoms of a serious problem caused by toxic air. And respiratory conditions like asthma and pneumonia have also been linked to air quality problems.
Start by checking the temperature, humidity and air flow in various locations throughout the day for several days. Also schedule an inspection and testing of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning system to make sure it is working according to specifications for building use and occupancy.
One of the simplest ways to diagnose poor air quality is a thorough walk-through of the warehouse. Make note of any odors, water damage, leaks, dirt, or pest droppings. Leaks and puddles must be eliminated to improve air quality long term. Why? Because standing water in humidifiers, air conditioning units, on roofs, in boiler pans or anywhere else can become contaminated with bacteria or fungi and degrade air quality.
You may also want to test for radon, carbon monoxide and asbestos in the warehouse if this hasn’t been done recently. Instruments that detect gases and measure indoor air pollutants are available to purchase or rent.
Maintaining positive pressure inside the warehouse is another critical dimension to air quality. Having positive pressure means that the air pressure inside is higher than it is outside. This pushes air from the inside to the outside, eliminating “bad” air. It also has the benefit of making your other systems more efficient. The air handler unit of the heating and cooling system should keep your pressure at the proper level.
Not all exposures to poor quality air will cause symptoms, but good building management means being proactive to ensure a healthy environment. Yes, warehouses present a unique challenge when it comes to air quality, comfort and temperature control. But taking steps to improve the quality of air and create a more comfortable and healthful working environment for employees has many paybacks, including increased productivity and peace of mind.
A warehouse – with its monstrous doors, cavernous space and high ceilings – might appear to be better ventilated than, say, a small windowless office. However, just the opposite may be true.