Many Safety and Health professionals are natural born story tellers. Still after almost 50 years in this business one of my favorite things to do at conferences or during training classes is listening to or telling stories about events that happened on the job or in life. To me nothing makes more a lasting impression than hearing or remembering a good story. It may even trigger a response action that helps someone to have a safer day at work.
With this in mind, our AIHA local section catalyst page, our new Historical Archive or the Pgh. AIHA quarterly newsletter would like to present some of these stories to our members. Perhaps an unexpected IH or safety discovery, a funny happening or a tragic event could be just the story someone need to read to if you are willing to share.
As we all reflect on the events of this past year or from a working lifetime, please consider sharing one of your “stories” that means a lot to you or is something that you just can’t forget. Just in writing this piece, dozens of my stories have come to mind as I am sure will happen to you. As you write your stories, please keep them “relatively” short and avoid naming names or places that might prove hurtful unless essential to the telling. My example is below (click the "read more" link).
Back in the mid-1980s, when the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) was in its infancy as an IH specialty, I received a call from a building manager from our Land and Mapping department. He wanted to report that three of his employees were having some allergy-like symptoms when at work that went away over the weekend or after several days away from the office. Of course, their supervisor and some coworkers thought “it was all in their head” as most people in the same office had no similar symptoms. This had been going on for several months and was getting to be a problem causing these employees to call off work. He asked if I could run some air tests in the building and talk to the people having problems with the IAQ.
The next day I stopped over to begin my investigation. Unfortunately, two of the three people were off sick that day, maybe fearing they would be picked on by me. I spoke to the one guy having issues and he related his symptoms; coughing, nasal congestion, headaches, always feeling tired, etc. I took some basic temperature and humidity measurements and readings from a Tri-gas meter which was all we had at the time. I asked to see the HVAC units serving the space and was escorted to the roof by the custodian.
It was a fairly new building and the HVAC unit used an automated economizer bringing in lots of “fresh” air given the springtime temperatures. I was going to check-on the cleanliness of the air filters and cooling coil drain pans inside the unit in question but it was sitting in the middle of a large pond of water, 3 inches deep, topped with a coating of green algae. The water ponding was caused by a clogged roof drain, so to avoid getting my shoes wet, I took a screwdriver and removed the debris clogging the drain. In a few minutes the pond drained away and I was able to complete my inspection of the HVAC system finding no issues.
I left the building, after reporting to the supervisor that I could find nothing wrong except for the clogged roof drain and no explanation of his employee’s symptoms. The next morning, I received a call from the supervisor and the one employee I had interviewed asking what I had done as he and the other two affected employees had reported a complete end to their allergy symptoms. All felt better than they had for months. After some research, I discovered that some algae blooms, like the one growing around the HVAC unit, can produce aerosols that can cause allergic reactions like those experienced. Who knew? Years after that, any time allergy symptoms were reported by building occupants, areas of inspection always include the rooftop environment and the cleanliness of the HVAC unit’s cooling coil drain pans, coils and sound liners.
Feel free to contact us with your story! email to: email@example.com or PittsburghAIHAhistory@gmail.com.