Sick Building Syndrome
“Sick Building Syndrome” is a diagnosis given to a situation where regular occupants of a building are afflicted with multiple symptoms of various illnesses or a pervasive feeling of general ill health.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome can include numerous respiratory issues such as sniffles, runny nose, stuffy nose, sinus infections, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, scratchy throat and increased severity of allergies or asthma among a large number of people in a building. Other discomforts and problems among occupants such as dizziness, chronic fatigue, nausea, headaches, stomach upsets, eye irritation, skin irritation and difficulty concentrating are also common signs that a venue is suffering Sick Building Syndrome.
How to Identify Sick Building Syndrome
One of the key factors in identifying Sick Building Syndrome is to observe how rapidly or easily occupants recover from such symptoms after leaving the building. If people have a very strong tendency to magically feel a lot better or suffer illness or discomfort considerably less when out of a building, it could be a very strong indication that the building or the conditions in the building is the cause. While it is not uncommon for viruses, colds and flu to spread intermittently throughout buildings and businesses, another indication of Sick Building Syndrome may be a chronic issue of absenteeism that is mysteriously plaguing an organization constantly or continuously, outside the norm of regular flu seasons. Are people always getting sick? Are people taking medical leave constantly? Are employees always feeling lethargic, generally ill and sickly? Is getting or feeling sick at the office a common occurrence that people are just trying to tolerate day in day out? If this sounds a bit too familiar for comfort, then it may be a good idea to investigate further into whether you are a victim of Sick Building Syndrome.
What cause Sick Building Syndrome?
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome are multifaceted. In an effort to increase energy efficiency in buildings over the past several decades, construction has made many buildings more airtight – meaning that ventilation and the natural flow and exchange of air and pollutants has been stifled. Pollutants that cause illnesses such as bacteria, viruses, mould, spores and allergens are very easily trapped and can more easily grow. Materials used in buildings as decor and business tools now also contribute to a massive increase of Volatile Organic Compounds locked inside for occupants to breathe constantly. Paints, glues, papers, carpet fibers, furniture materials, copiers, printers etc. emit a very broad spectrum of toxic and carcinogenic fumes that have been proven to cause serious diseases. Less ventilation, less direct sunlight, less fresh air combined with humidity and temperature fluctuation caused by aircons also contributes to one of the most common of building ailments: mould. And breathing in mould and spores can very easily cause an entire host of respiratory damage.
What can you do?
One very good way to identify and treat Sick Building Syndrome is to conduct a thorough and professional investigation. This could include, but not be limited to, things such as an evaluation of the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) through air sampling. Levels of carbon dioxide can be measured to assess ventilation efficiencies. Toxic gases such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide can be measured to check amounts and pervasiveness of VOCs. Ventilation systems, aircons, fans, filters, furniture can be examined for biological pollutants. Water systems and pipes can be inspected for any leaks that could be contributing to excess water and mould growth. Walk through visual inspections can be conducted to identify sources of VOC such as business machines, cleaning materials, insulation, furniture etc. Mould growth can be thoroughly inspected under carpets, behind wall paper, inside walls and other hidden areas that are normally out of site of occupants or employees.
Proper identification of cause is the direct path to solving Sick Building Syndrome. Just as the cause of Sick Building Syndrome can be multifaceted, solutions may also often involve more than one step. However, some of the very fundamental and key steps will most likely revolve around proper ventilation, better air circulation, building up healthier air standards with better maintenance of fans and filter systems, cleaning of dampness and moulds, and careful monitoring and selection of materials used in a building.
Considering the costs and inefficiencies of lethargy, lack of focus, illness, disease, medical leave and chronic absenteeism, spending the time and effort to investigate, identify and rectify problems of Sick Building Syndrome can be one of the best investments to make to ensure a healthy future.