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tom_g's avatar

How concerned should I be concerned about machine shop odor?

Asked by tom_g (16570 points ) December 6th, 2013

My new office opened last night, and it shares a building with a machine shop. The odors are quite strong. I visited for 20 minutes last night, and I was still breathing the smell (and tasting it) a couple of hours later.

This morning, despite the fact that the tiny windows were open, I couldn’t tolerate the smell. Most of my coworkers, however, seemed to hardly notice. “I smelled it when I first got in, but I think I am used to it now.”

Note: I am highly sensitive to odors. I can’t be around people who wear perfume or cologne. I also have asthma, so certain things seem to trigger it – wood smoke, strong air fresheners, etc.

Anyway, I really don’t want to be that guy – the guy who is complaining about some odor that nobody else really cares about. It’s a remote office, so management is out of state. All of this was handled using other parties (the purchase of new office space). There are only a handful of us in this remote office.

Anyway, how much of this is simply me being “sensitive” to smells and odors? Is there any legitimate concern about constant exposure to machine shop fumes? I don’t want to go overboard with environmental toxic concerns. My father has Parkinson’s and my sister came down with MS a few years ago. She’s quite paranoid about toxins since then, and I have considered myself as taking a rather sane approach to these issues.

Anyway, any thoughts?

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12 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I would agree that it is a concern but what recourse do you have? Keep all windows closed and AC running all the time? I have no clue about air filtering but will send this Q to our expert, Lucky Guy.

When I pump gas, I make sure that I am breathing upwind of the gas fumes emanating from the pump, so I agree with your sister.

ibstubro's avatar

When I worked in a food factory, there was an employee on my line that stood in the direct path of a huge ceiling heater. She became flushed and faint. Taken to the doctor, she was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. You may have a real and legitimate cause for concern. I would probably at least insist that a CM monitor be installed, to the point of buying it myself.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I would avoid that air as much as possible. If you can taste it it’s really nasty. And here’s another article for you.

hearkat's avatar

Check with OSHA and your state’s regulations about fumes and whether such shops have standards to meet and inspection qualifications. You could always place an anonymous report that might result in an inspection of the air quality of their shop and the surrounding area.

Cupcake's avatar

Is this your new 40-hour a week permanent office?

I second the CO detector and OSHA check (I would look into them performing an inspection). I’m sure you could purchase your own air filtering machine for your office… perhaps your company would even purchase one for you (but that would require “complaining”).

johnpowell's avatar

My dad owned a welding and machine shop and I spent a lot of time there. There is a odor from them. But most of the stink was from lubricants and solvents that you could buy at Walmart. I’m net really sure that OSHA could do much.

You admit to being sensitive to odors so you might be SOL. A fan in your window might be the best bet.

Seek's avatar

I like having documentation in cases like this, so I found them for you, just in case you’re interested:

OSHA air contaminants regulations
The referenced table z-1

Dutchess_III's avatar

Just check with the city….there are regulations involving the machine shop’s venting. It sounds like they aren’t meeting code.

snowberry's avatar

I’d be very concerned. Just because you “get used to it” or your other co-workers can’t smell it or it doesn’t bother them, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Quite a few people sensitive to perfumes have won lawsuits against co-workers who wore strong perfumes in the office. It is very possible that the machine shop shares air with you through the attic or common vents.

As @Seek_Kolinahr says, document, document!

tom_g's avatar

Thanks everyone. I really don’t want to be “that guy” who is all sensitive and causes a problem here. It is a long story, but the office was a long time in planning. I just contacted the person who signed the lease for us. He doesn’t work here, and his job is to handle our company’s locations. I have simply started by asking him if we were provided any information about the fumes upon signing the lease, and if there were any OSHA docs or waivers.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Is there any chance you can put an electrostatic air filter in the area?

I agree with you about not wanting to be “that guy”. You might be right but you might also be the first one laid off or skipped over for the next promotion. Why? “Tom’s not a team player.” “Tom can’t roll with the punches.” “Tom, complains about everything.” You get the idea.

Maybe the air duct can have HEPA filters installed. Do it yourself early one morning or after work. Don’t expect them to pay for it. Just do it.
I bought a free standing Sharper Image GP Hybrid Germicidal air cleaner for $9.00 at GoodWill. It works great. That will ionize the air and cause the oil particles to coalesce and fall out of the air.

funkdaddy's avatar

Second the air purifier idea. We got a little one for allergies, I was completely skeptical, and it really does help. It does pretty well with diaper smell as well.

Also wanted to mention the building/office management that your company is leasing from may be able to help without it being a big deal. I was in an office that was next to a place that did a lot of painting. We just mentioned the smell to the management folks, they came out and took a look, then did a few night’s work to seal the area above the dropped ceiling between the two spaces. We added a small fan that pushed air into that space rather than drawing it in (like a flat radiator fan or a larger version of a PC case fan) and between those two changes I didn’t smell it anymore.

It was never a big deal, and we were cool with the “neighbors”, so they didn’t have a problem either. I think part of what helped is we didn’t go at them right away with OSHA regulations and lease terms. See if they’re willing to help just because it’s the right thing to do and you’re going to be there for the next 3–5 years. If you need to force their hand that’s when it becomes a problem.

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