NIOSH Evaluates Indoor Environmental Quality at Medical Examiner's Office

Published March 2, 2016

During a recent health hazard evaluation (HHE), NIOSH staff addressed concerns about inadequate ventilation at a medical examiner’s office building. Employees requested that NIOSH examine the work conditions in the subbasement 1 floor of the building, where workers processed and stored police evidence. According to the HHE report, NIOSH measured temperature, relative humidity, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and air quality in the areas of concern; interviewed employees regarding their health and safety concerns and work history; examined the office’s HVAC systems; and reviewed work-related injury and illness reports.

NIOSH’s evaluation, which took place in March 2015, revealed several correctable indoor environmental quality problems, specifically inadequate ventilation on the subbasement 1 floor. The office also did not have an indoor environmental quality management program in place at the time of the evaluation. The agency found a few employees eating at their desks, where evidence that is potentially contaminated with blood or other body fluids is handled. Used gloves were found in regular waste bins and there were no biohazardous waste containers found on the subbasement 1 floor where the gloves should have been properly discarded. The office also had no written procedures for cleaning up biological or chemical spills.

NIOSH staff did find that the medical examiner’s office’s bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan and respiratory protection plan met all necessary requirements. There was also no evidence of dampness or mold growth, or musty odors.

“Some of the symptoms reported by employees, such as headache, fatigue, skin irritation, and respiratory symptoms, have been associated with dampness and inadequate ventilation but are also common in offices, schools, and the general population when dampness or ventilation is not a problem,” the NIOSH report states.

NIOSH recommended that the medical examiner’s office adjust the ventilation system to meet current ventilation guidelines and to ensure air is supplied as designed; provide biohazard waste bins on the subbasement 1 floor; and keep temperature and relative humidity within comfort guidelines. The agency also recommended banning eating or drinking in areas where evidence is handled and processed, developing standard operating procedures for cleaning chemical or biological spills, and improving communication between employees and managers about employee health and safety concerns.

For more information, view the full report.