Make indoor air quality part of your plant's health and safety program

April 19, 2013
Mike Bacidore says indoor air quality is important, even if you can't see it.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility. I’ve said it numerous times. If you see a potential hazard, do something about it. But what about the problems you can’t see? Indoor air quality is an important aspect of plant safety, but its invisibility leaves it out of mind. So, who’s responsible for indoor air quality? “The responsibility lies primarily with the employer,” explains Ivan D. Ivanov, MD, PhD , team leader, occupational health, Department of Public Health and Environment, World Health Organization (WHO, in Geneva, Switzerland. “Workers are responsible to follow the instructions for safe work given by the employer and to use appropriately the equipment for personal and collective protection. Occupational health and safety experts are responsible to assess the risks and to advise the employer about the measures for reducing and eliminating exposure to hazards.”

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or [email protected] or check out his .
Subscribe to the From the Editor RSS feed

If a business is large enough it may have an environmental, health, and safety group, that has air quality as part of its role, says Kirt Boston, global manager of Torit product technology at Donaldson Filtration Solutions ( “Sometimes, a plant maintenance manager or process engineer ends up with responsibility for air quality in the plant,” he says. “Industrial hygiene, as an example, is something that’s usually part of what the environmental, health, and safety group will look at, but, if you talk about air quality with a plant maintenance guy or a process engineer, industrial hygiene may not be a consideration for them. And that doesn’t address issues relative to the actual process such as process hazard assessments or risks associated with the contaminants they produce that are unintentional such as weld fume or buffing and polishing dusts.”

Each plant tends to look at that division of air quality responsibility differently, adds Boston. “As an owner of a process, you have a responsibility for understanding the process and making sure your employees are given an opportunity to work in a safe environment,” he explains. “At the top level, the plant manager or the owner has to be accountable for that. What level of participation they have varies. We’ve observed plant managers who are well-versed in industrial ventilation and take a very active role in system design decisions, and we’ve observed others managers who are wholly dependent on others within their organizations.”

A lot of intermediary engineering groups will do that kind of design work, says Boston. “They’ll come in and help a customer to make a decision on how to mitigate a dust hazard within the facility and they’ll end up selling the design work and the installation work and the capital goods that are necessary to do it,” he says. “A lot of that expertise now resides outside of the operators’ realm. In the past, the foundries used to have guys who did that work. Food industries and automotive used to have those. Now, more and more of that expertise isn’t internal; it’s external.”

Indoor air quality is everyone’s responsibility within an industrial plant or factory, says Travis Haynam, director of business development & technical sales at United Air Specialists ( “Management must acknowledge the importance of a clean and safe environment for their workers and provide the necessary resources to address any issues,” he explains. “In turn, workers must accept the responsibility to execute the air pollution control solution on a daily basis to keep the factory clean and to protect the air they breathe.”

Dust has become recognized as a significant hazard not only for health, but also for the explosive potential of dusts such as those from organic matter, explains Lawrence Schoen of Schoen Engineering ( in Columbia, Maryland. “Therefore, control of dust is a major responsibility of plant management,” he says. “NFPA and other standards apply, depending on the type of dust.”

Read Mike Bacidore's monthly column, From the Editor.