By Adam R. YoungA. Scott HeckerDaniel I. SmallBenjamin D. Briggs, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The COVID-19 pandemic and wildfire smoke shrouding the skies over the East Coast this summer have drawn more attention to indoor air quality, leading the New York City Council to propose indoor air quality resolutions. 

Indoor air quality has long been a source of employee health complaints. While the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offers industry consensus standards on ventilation rates and federal OSHA provides action levels for specific contaminants, most indoor New York City workplaces currently face no regulations applicable to indoor air quality. New York City officials are considering proposed indoor air quality regulations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the legislation has been in the works for nearly a year but found new urgency after Summer 2023 wildfire smoke caused flashbacks to pandemic lockdowns. 

If adopted, the bill will “require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“DOHMH”) to set standards regarding indoor air quality in city buildings, and engage in outreach and education regarding indoor air quality. It would also require the DOHMH, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Protection, to issue real time and annual reports on the DOHMH website regarding air quality in city buildings.” Future regulations may extend the requirements to private buildings.

With indoor air quality regulation, New York City would be pushing occupational health legislation into a new frontier, pursuing legislation largely dissociated from data on employee exposure and health hazards. The legislation may serve as a model for other jurisdictions.  The mere discussion and publicity of this legislation could lead to new whistleblower complaints or unfounded refusals to perform work on account of employee safety and health. 

Seyfarth will continue to monitor and report on the status of this New York bill. For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.