…  is often the question when it comes to common indoor air quality questions or in response to a communicable disease outbreak (or diagnoses) in the workplace.  The answer is not to sample (almost without exception).  A good case study came up this week when a library and high school were closed after some environmental sampling (conducted after somebody was diagnosed with a communicable disease) found commonplace bacteria in the environment. 

When dealing with indoor environmental concerns or in response to a diagnosis of a communicable disease, the first step isn’t to sample the environment.  There are other first steps that should be taken.  For example, if somebody is diagnosed with an infectious disease in the workplace you can emphasize the importance of good handwashing among all staff and encourage everybody to stay home if they feel ill.   Environmental sampling following the diagnosis of an infectious disease in the workplace will be of little value- and will often turn up common microorganisms of no public health consequence…  and sometimes these decisions lead to poor decisions about what to do about the results. 

Most of us spend a lot of time indoors, whether it is at work, home, or school.  People are often concerned that their symptoms or health conditions are related to where they spend a lot of time.  The best approach to investigating concerns expressed by workers are common sense measures. If the concern is about indoor air quality generally- you can use helpful indoor air quality checklists or other indoor air quality assessment tools.  By looking at simple fixes first, such as changes to the air conditioning or heating system, carpet cleaning, or new cleaning products, many environmental concerns can be identified immediately. This may fix the problem immediately before having to wait for test results.