What is haze?
Haze is a phenomenon characterized by the presence of fine particles, pollutants, and other substances suspended in the air. These particles scatter and absorb sunlight, reducing visibility and causing the air to appear hazy or foggy.
What are the common causes of haze?
The particles responsible for haze stem from a variety of origins, comprising both natural and human-made sources. Among the natural contributors are the ocean, forests, and the earth’s surface.
Yet, a predominant portion of these particles emerges from human actions, encompassing activities like open burning, forest fires, land clearance, emissions from vehicles, and the combustion of fossil fuels prompted by industrial operations.
How can haze affect workplace indoor air quality?
While the most common effect of haze is reduced visibility, it can also impact indoor air quality in various ways. The pollutants and fine particles present in haze can infiltrate indoor spaces, leading to deteriorated air quality indoors. Here’s how haze can affect indoor air quality:
Outdoor air infiltration
Pollutants from outdoor haze can enter indoor spaces through ventilation systems, open windows, and doors. This is especially concerning when the outdoor air quality is poor due to haze.
Fine particles from haze can settle on surfaces indoors, including floors, furniture, equipment, and electronics. These particles can be re-suspended into the air when disturbed, contributing to workplace air pollution.
Some pollutants in haze, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can undergo chemical reactions indoors and lead to the formation of secondary pollutants. These secondary pollutants can further deteriorate indoor air quality.
Indoor sources of pollution, such as poorly maintained HVAC systems, the use of equipment, and off-gassing from building materials and furniture, can interact with outdoor pollutants from haze, exacerbating indoor air quality problems.
Serious effects of haze on health
According to a study on the effects of haze on lung health, from late July to the beginning of October 1997, countries of Southeast Asia experienced severe smoke haze pollution from uncontrolled forest fires mainly in the Indonesian states of Kalimantan and Sumatra. In Singapore, the impact of the 1997 haze was felt in the period from the end of August to the first week of November 1997 as a result of prevailing winds.
The study showed that the Southeast Asian haze led to an increase in air pollutants from 50 to 150 μg/m3. This is also significantly associated with increases of 12% of upper respiratory tract illness, 19% asthma and 26% nasal inflammation
Based on individual sensitivity, the intensity of the haze, and the duration of exposure, you might encounter the following short-term negative effects:
- Irritated, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Throat irritation, dry throat, sore throat and coughing
- Headache, dizziness and fatigue;
- Decreased respiratory immune defenses
- Chest pain
- Diarrhea, if drinking water sources are contaminated by dense haze and the water is consumed without further treatment
- Anxiety, stress and/or depression-like symptoms such as insomnia, feelings of helplessness, lack of focus, loss of interest in daily activities and irritability.
Prolonged exposure to fine particles carries the potential for heightened risks, including an accelerated rate of arterial thickening in comparison to those less exposed. This contributes to the development of vascular diseases. Moreover, haze is linked to an elevated likelihood of cardiovascular disease-related mortality, and it can curtail life expectancy by several months to a few years.
Susceptible individuals such as elderly and those employees suffering from chronic diseases, especially respiratory and heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, may be mostly affected by haze. They are more likely to experience more severe haze-related effects than healthy people.
How can you keep your employees safe from the effects of haze?
Keep employees informed about the current air quality conditions, both indoors and outdoors, and the potential health risks associated with haze. This can be done by installing air quality monitoring devices that come with accessible dashboards and websites where employees can access real-time air quality data. Information can also be disseminated through emails, announcements, or workplace communication platforms.
Flexible work arrangements
Consider allowing flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or adjusted work hours, to reduce employees’ exposure to poor air quality during severe haze conditions.
Provide protective equipment
If employees need to work outdoors, provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks to reduce their inhalation of pollutants.
Maintain good indoor air quality
Improve indoor air quality within the workplace by ensuring proper ventilation systems, using air purifiers with HEPA filters, and minimizing indoor pollution sources.
Emergency response plan
Develop an emergency response plan outlining the steps to take in case of severe haze conditions, including evacuation procedures if necessary.
Encourage employees to share their concerns and feedback about indoor air quality and their well-being during hazy periods. This information can help you make informed decisions.
Fight indoor air pollution at work.