What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)?
Over the past few years, you may have been hearing the term “ Sick Building Syndrome ”, or SBS more frequently, especially within the workplace. But not everyone is clear on what exactly it is. How it manifests itself, what causes it, and most importantly why it is increasingly becoming a serious issue?
In a nutshell, Sick Building Syndrome describes a situation or collection of non-specific yet very problematic and persistent symptoms among people working within a building. These symptoms are health related illnesses that tend to be pervasive, constant and clearly causing problems among employees, but somehow cannot be connected to one specific problem, issue or source.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome
Some of the signs of Sick Building Syndrome can be, but not limited to, such things as:
- persistent headaches,
- dizziness, nausea, coughing or asthma-like reactions,
- eye and throat irritation,
- runny or stuffy nose or sinus allergy-like symptoms,
- a perpetual state of fatigue or drowsiness,
- shortness of breath,
- flu or cold-like symptoms,
- inability to focus or concentrate for longer periods of time and
- sensitivity to bad odors.
The two biggest indicators that your business may be under the grip of Sick Building Syndrome can be:
- firstly that you have an issue of chronic, frequent or continual absenteeism, and/or
- that employees often note or report that symptoms are relieved when they are not in or have left the building.
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
There are various factors that can be causing Sick Building Syndrome within your building or workplace. The following are some of the most common causes:
Various pollutants such as motor vehicle exhausts, exhausts from other building vents, poorly positioned bathroom or kitchen vents etc. can be steadily leaking indoors.
These are most likely the culprits that are causing the most damage, the main one being Volatile Organic Compounds which can basically be any concoction of carcinogenic fumes or chemicals that come from numerous materials in any building such as: adhesive materials used in any form of furniture, upholstery, carpeting, photocopy machines, printers, cleaning agents, synthetic fragrances, artificial wood materials etc. There are also a host of other indoor pollutants such as various forms of dust, airborne particulates and smoke.
These include entire spectrums of bacteria, viruses, various allergens such as dust mites, fungus and moulds. It is important to keep in mind that these biological pollutants can be airborne, passing from person to person through the air or through personal contact, but up to 90% of the time they live on the surfaces inside a building such as furniture, carpeting, curtains/blinds, upholstery as well as in vents, ducts and inside air conditioning systems.
Poor circulation of outside or clean air can obviously lend a big hand in the development of Sick Building Syndrome as well. If cleaner, fresher air is not adequately circulated and provided to each person in an office or building, all of the above contaminants can just fester, grow, recirculate constantly, causing a noxious working environment each and every day and making employees sicker and sicker as time passes.
Real Cost of Sick Building Syndrome
Businesses should not take Sick Building Syndrome lightly – in fact, businesses cannot afford to take it lightly. When your most valuable assets, your employees, are sick and/or cannot function to their fullest potential, there are real cost implications to a business’s bottom line. The Malaysian employers Federation states that each time one employee falls ill, three times the usual amount of money needs to be spent: cost of daily wages that are still paid, medical fees, paying another employee to cover the work missed. Medical leave and stalled productivity has a direct impact on the bottom line of any business.