Air quality in offices
Air in offices may be contaminated by several different sources, including
odours and micro-biological and chemical contaminants. In an office environment,
the quality of the air is often controlled through an air conditioning system.
A building’s air conditioning system can be considered its lungs. The function
of such a system is to draw in outside air, filter, heat, cool or humidify it and
circulate it around the building. The system expels a portion of the air to the
outside environment and replaces this expelled portion with fresh or outside air.
Guidelines on appropriate air quality standards for the office environment are
contained in the relevant Australian Standards, particularly AS 1668.2: The Use of
Ventilation and Air Conditioning in Buildings: Ventilation Design (2002). There are
several air contaminants which can lead to health problems for workers in offices.
Legionnaire’s disease is an infection caused by exposure to legionella bacteria.
Infection can often be traced to exposure to mists of airborne droplets carrying
the bacteria. These may be related to contaminated air conditioning cooling towers
and warm water systems. Other sources may include aerosols from spa baths or
Effective prevention of exposure to legionella is achieved through appropriate
design and maintenance of air conditioning systems. In Victoria the law requires:
• cooling towers to be registered;
• a risk management plan to be in place; and
• regular testing and maintenance of systems.
Legislation includes the Building (Legionella) Act 2000 and the Health (Legionella)
Regulations 2001, which are administered by the Department of Human Services.
Comcare’s Approved Code of Practice on Indoor Air Quality (2002) contains
guidance on prevention of legionnaires’ disease.
Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) refers to a situation where a proportion of people
complain of symptoms of discomfort such as a headache, eye, nose or throat
irritation, fatigue, dizziness or nausea while inside a building and the symptoms
go away upon leaving the building. Instances of SBS are rare and may be related
to psychosocial factors in the workplace as well as poor air quality. Where air
quality problems exist or SBS is thought to be a problem, specialist advice should