Indoor Air Quality

Cal OSHA's Airborne Contaminants (Title 8, General Industry Safety Order 5155) requires that employee exposure to airborne substances be restricted.

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals released as gases from some solids and liquids. The concentration of VOCs indoors are usually higher than those found outdoors.

A wide array of household, office, and building materials are made using these compounds. Examples include wall paneling, vinyl flooring, carpeting, padding, adhesives, furniture, printers, copiers, glues, permanent markers, and typo correction fluids. Other potential sources include paints, as well as varnishes, thinners, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and even air fresheners.

Some key signs of symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, and allergic skin reactions.

If you experience these symptoms, immediately contact your supervisor who will contact the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) Office and Human Resources. 

Consult with your primary care physician to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. 

University Efforts to Reduce Exposure

Building Materials used in the construction of office spaces meet local, state, and federal health and safety regulations. In addition, USF makes every effort to procure products and materials from vendors that meet industry standards for low VOCs. These are typically certifications from independent testing labs.

Examples include:

Office Furniture 

Greenguard or SCS Indoor Advantage Certified for furniture products.


The Carpeting and Rug Institute has the "Green Label" program rating low-emitting VOC flooring products.


Greenguard or SCS Indoor Advantage also provides certifications for paint and other wall covering products.

Phased Installation

"Wet" materials, such as paints and drywall joint compounds, are installed early in construction to minimize indoor VOC concentrations.


Prior to occupancy, ventilation in the space is increased and the temperature elevated in a process referred to as a "bake out." This will accelerate the normal release of VOCs from newly installed materials. When products are first installed, VOC levels tend to be elevated, but decrease rapidly.

Departmental Ways to Reduce Exposure

There are things you can do at the departmental, office, and individual level to reduce your exposure to VOCs in the work environment.

Prior to purchasing office products and supplies, check whether or not they meet or exceed standards like those discussed above.

Try to reduce the use of perfumes, colognes, and scented deodorants that may contribute to the VOC burden in a space.

Certain varieties of indoor plants have been shown to remove VOCs from the air. Contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office for more information on this subject.

For more information about the subject of VOCs and indoor air quality presented in this brochure, refer to the sources listed below or contact the Environmental Health and Safety Office.