SICK BUILDING SYNDROME – WHAT IS IT AND HOW TO FIX IT
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WHAT IS SICK BUILDING SYNDROME?
Sick Building Syndrome is every employer/HR managers nightmare! But it’s not just restricted to the workplace – it can even be caused by your own home. In this blog we go over what the illness is, the typical symptoms, how it is caused, and most importantly – how you can fix it!
Sick Building Syndrome is a universally recognized condition, and is the name for symptoms that are caused by a particular building.
Typical symptoms include:
- Blocked or runny nose
- Dry, itchy skin, sore eyes and throat
- Coughing or wheezing
- Tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
The symptoms generally get worse the longer you are in a building that is causing the symptoms, and get better after you leave. Generally the symptoms affect more than one person in the building.
If you have allergies or a respiratory condition, you may notice an increased severity in your condition, for example if you have asthma you might have a higher likelihood of an attack that is caused by SBS.
WHAT CAUSES SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
Whilst there is no universally accepted single answer as to what causes these unpleasant symptoms, the common consensus is that it will most likely relate to the indoor air quality of the building as well as issues with cleaning and workplace layouts.
Below are some of the likely causes of SBS:
- Poor ventilation and filtration systems
- High levels of dust and particulate matter
- Smoke or Fumes
- Poor lighting – dim/or too bright or flickering lights
- Mould or Fungal growth
- Heat or low humidity
- Chemicals in the air from cleaning products
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission inadequate air quality can be found in circa 30% of new and remodelled workplaces, and that doesn’t even scrape the surface on older workplaces that haven’t been re-vamped for decades. That’s why it is estimated that 6 out of 10 buildings can cause Sick Building Syndrome.
HOW CAN I FIX SICK BUILDING SYNDROME?
- The first thing you can do is to look at ways to monitor and improve indoor air quality. PM2.5 and CO2 monitors are a good start and will help you decide the areas that need immediate attention so you can work on a priority basis.
- Often the simplest and most cost effective way to improve indoor air quality is to increase ventilation rates, and air distribution to ASHRAE Standard 62 if possible. As a recommended minimum you should be getting 5 air changes per hour in every space. In a crowded room, this should ideally be more to ensure that every person is getting 10 Litres of clean air per second. It’s worth consulting with your mechanical engineer to understand this piece.
- Install HEPA air filtration – either in the HVAC or better still and far more cost effective, as independent air purification devices in each room. The HEPA filtration will help ensure that dust and particulate matter as well as airborne pathogens are constantly filtered and the air is purified in every space. There are many options both portable and fixed in the ceiling. Installing in room HEPA filtration can also help you achieve increased air changes per hour.
- If the outdoor quality is good and temperatures/weather permit – open the windows to bring in fresh air. This will lower concentrations of CO2.
Address mould and bacteria issues which is often a sign of damp in a building. We recommend Antimicrobial Coatings for mould prevention, and for general cleaning. This helps surfaces to stay self-sanitizing against many types of harmful bacteria and mould, and makes it easier to keep them clean.
Detailed below are a few links to other websites that help you understand Sick Building Syndrome in more detail.
- Sick building syndrome and building-related illness (NIOSH)
- Building Related Illnesses (Merck Manual)
- Indoor Air Quality (OSHA)
- The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
- Indoor Air Quality FAQ (OSHA)
- Sick Building Syndrome: What It Is and Tips for Prevention (Occupational Health & Safety Magazine)
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