Sick Building Syndrome Prevention & Symptoms

‘Sick building syndrome’ is an term to define a situation where a place of work has been found to cause various ailments and illnesses. It sounds incredible that a building could cause such issues in a work environment, but it’s true. This can cause loss of productivity and high staff turnover. Our guide looks at how to prevent and diagnose sick building syndrome.

a worker with a headache

Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of sick building sydrome are characterised by headaches, Respiratory Problems and Skin Irritations. It is thought to be caused by indoor pollutants, micro-organisms or inadequate ventilation. The ‘syndrome’ tends to be associated more with office blocks as opposed to factories.

Building occupants are known to complain of:

  • Headache.
  • Eye, nose or throat irritation.
  • Dry cough.
  • Dry or itchy skin.
  • Dizziness and nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sensitivity to odours.

The above could all be the effect of many other conditions. For ‘sick building syndrome’ to exist, most sufferers should experience a relief from their symptoms within a short period of leaving the building.


Examples of Sick Building Syndrome

Contributing factors can often relate to the design of the building, and may include combinations of some or all of the following:

  • Indoor air pollution.
  • Artificial fragrance.
  • Poor or inappropriate lighting including absence of adequate lighting, or limited access to natural sunlight.
  • Poor heating or ventilation.
  • Bad acoustics.
  • Poorly designed furnishings, furniture and equipment. For example, computer monitors or photocopiers.
  • Poor ergonomics.
  • Chemical or biological contamination.

To the owner or occupier of a ‘sick building’, the symptoms may include high levels of employees being off work sick and increased absenteeism, lower productivity, lower job satisfaction and higher levels of staff turnover.


Sick Building Syndrome Prevention & Cure

Solutions to ‘sick building syndrome’ usually include a combination of the following measures:

  • If the pollutant source is easily identified, removal or modification is required.
  • Heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems should be kept clean and regularly maintained. They should also be replaced or modified if other environmental issues come into play.
  • Smoking should be banned or, at the very least, restricted to a place well away from those who do not wish to be affected by cigarette fumes.
  • Try to ensure access to natural sunlight and opening windows for ventilation can also help giving the occupants a feeling of ‘control’ over their internal environment.
  • Regular cleaning of soft furnishings to avoid the built up of dust and dust mites.
  • Wherever possible sources of pollution should be eliminated or relocated to a place where there are fewer people. For example, the removal of gas heaters or photocopiers from busy work areas.
  • Canteens or kitchens should be kept clean with food and drink remains regularly disposed of.

Of course, there are some sceptics who debunk the existence of ‘sick building syndrome’. Nevertheless, basic hygiene and cleanliness seems to be at the root of eliminating most of the triggers for those who complain about it.

It is impossible to remove all pollutants that cause building related illnesses but with adequate, well-maintained ventilation and the removal of obvious sources of pollution, the risks can be drastically reduced.

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