Utah’s air quality has an impact on an employer’s most valuable resource–their employees. There is a correlation between employee health issues and the air quality outside, and many Utah businesses are stepping up to mitigate the health effects of our air. These health issues can influence business operations as they lead to an increase in health care costs, a decrease in workplace productivity and can even impede an employee’s ability to perform their job duties. Understanding that a healthy workforce is necessary for a productive statewide business community, how can Utah’s business leaders better understand these health effects and contribute to a solution? The answer is easier than you may think.

Understanding Air Pollution

Key to understanding how Utah’s air affects employee health, is first having a knowledge of common air pollutants. Here’s a quick breakdown from the UCAIR website:

Particulate Matter: Particulate matter, commonly referred to as PM, is made of very small dust and soot particles. PM2.5 is of greatest concern because of its size, about one-fortieth the width of a human hair. PM 2.5 can become trapped in the lungs and exacerbate or cause negative health conditions.

Volatile Organic Compounds: VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary, room temperature conditions and are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. Some major sources of VOCs include gasoline, paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, etc.

Sulfur Oxides & Sulfur Dioxide: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless, reactive gas and a secondary component of PM pollution. Major sources include power plants and industrial boilers. Generally, the highest concentrations of sulfur dioxide are found near large industrial sources.

Nitrogen Oxides & Nitrogen Dioxide: Nitrogen oxides (NOX) are highly reactive gases and are a major component of ground level ozone creation and PM. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also linked to a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system. NO2 forms quickly from any form of combustion including emissions from vehicles, power plants and off-road equipment.

Source: Common pollutants information was taken from ucair.org/pollutants. Visit their website for more details and  information.

Health Risks

With knowledge of common air pollutants, employers can better understand the negative health effects these pollutants cause. For example, according the Utah Department of Health, smaller PM2.5 particles are most dangerous to health because of their size, as they can easily get deep into the lungs and enter the circulatory system and remain embedded there for long periods of time. Those with preexisting heart and lung conditions like heart disease or asthma have the highest sensitivity to PM air pollution. Even the healthiest of people can experience eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath during periods of bad air and inversion. Idling your car also releases emissions including NO2s, VOCs, carbon monoxide (CO) and PM2.5, all of which carry health risks such as decreased lung capacity, headaches and fatigue and respiratory problems.

(Source: ucair.org/health-and-economic-impacts)

Business-led Solutions

Utah’s employers can continue to lead the way in mitigating the negative health effects of Utah’s air quality challenges by remaining aware and making simple changes to benefit their employees. Such choices will not only help keep the state’s workforce healthy, but it can also save businesses money and increase productivity. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Join the growing number of Utah businesses committed to clean air by becoming a Salt Lake Chamber Clean Air Champion and participating in this winter’s Inversion Mitigation Initiative. Visit cleanairchampion.com for more details.
  • Encourage employees to reduce unnecessary idling in their personal or company vehicle. This simple choice will decrease exposure to pollutants and improve the respiratory health of sensitive populations (children, adults with asthma or heart disease) and healthy individuals alike.
  • If you or a Human Resources representative from your company is aware of an employee who suffers from asthma or other respiratory or heart issues, offer them options during air days such as teleworking or a temporary alternative work schedule.
  • Assign an employee to receive air quality email alerts from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and forward the information other employees so they can limit driving, take transit, and carpool to work.

If you try (or currently use) any of these suggestions, let us know how they work for you and your employees. We’d love to share your successes with other businesses.