Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a broad label to cover a range of symptoms triggered when the sufferer spends time in a particular building. Symptoms range from itchy eyes, skin rashes, and nasal allergy symptoms, to more vague symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, and sensitivity to odours.
The circumstances most suggestive of SBS are presence of common symptoms amongst a group of building occupants that are present when they are in the building and absent when they are not in the building.
Although the problem of SBS has been recognized for decades, statistics regarding the prevalence of the problem are limited. A World Health Organization (WHO) report from 1984 suggested that up to 30% of new and renovated buildings worldwide may generate excessive complaints related to indoor air quality. In a US report, of office workers questioned at random, 24% reported air quality problems in their work place, and 20% believed this harmed their ability to do their job effectively.
What are the symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick building syndrome involves a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms. Some authorities have attempted to separate the symptoms into distinct categories such as ‘allergic’ and ‘non-allergic’, or ‘chemical related’ and ‘microbe related’.
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Dry cough
- Dry, itchy skin, rashes
- Dizziness and nausea
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Sensitivity to odours
What are the causes of Sick Building Syndrome?
Although in many cases the exact mechanism by which a building, or substances within the building, are causing the occupants to become ill is unknown, the problem areas can usually be identified and remedial action taken. In many SBS cases poor building design, maintenance, and/or operation of the structure’s ventilation system may be at fault. The ventilation system in particular is often found to be at the heart of the problem, and can itself be a source of irritants. Interior design elements, such as the arrangement of individual offices and cubicles, may also interfere with efficient functioning of ventilation systems.
How to deal with Sick Building Syndrome ?
Increase the ventilation rate and air distribution. The HVAC system should be operated and maintained properly to ensure that the desired ventilation rates are attained. If there are strong pollutants, the air may need to be directly vented to the outside. This method is especially recommended to remove pollutants that accumulate in specific areas such as rest rooms, copy rooms and printing facilities.
Removal or modification of the pollutant source can be carried out by a routine maintenance of Air conditioners. The dust and pollutant built up over days of use can be cleared out with well spaced maintenance. Proper water proofing, avoiding synthetic or treated upholstery fabrics, storing paints, solvents, pesticides and adhesives in close containers in well-ventilated areas and using these pollutant sources in periods of low or no occupancy are other methods.
Air cleaning can be a useful addition to control air pollution. Air cleaning can be performed by ensuring uncongested interiors with open office designs, use of frosted glass and skylights that give access to natural light, terrace gardens, community spaces and indoor plants that absorb carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from the air. Air filters are also effective in removing some if not all of the pollutants.
So if you generally sneezy and lethargic at work and the condition improves as soon as you leave the workplace then it could be SBS or maybe your boss 🙂