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Sick Building Syndrome: Is Your Office Suffering From It?

5 min read
Published on 19 September, 2020

Of the many causes affecting workplace health, a toxic work environment is the biggest threat. But, other than this, did you know that even your building can affect your employee health as well? Yes, you read that right!

It is plausible that a building can add to your office workers’ health problems as well, in this case, a sick building. A sick building syndrome is the name of a condition that arises from living in a specific building/enclosed area with bad indoor air quality.

It is common in new buildings because of the various fresh elements and chemicals in the air. This condition can give rise to many health problems affecting employee health. It can affect the neurological system, cause skin problems, respiratory problems, etc.

Understanding that these are all bad news, it is vital to understand a few things about Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Causes-of-Sick-Building-Syndrome

The leading cause of SBS is poor indoor air quality. It can be the outcome of the following reasons.

  • Inadequate ventilation facilities of an office
  • Dust mites in the workspace
  • Tobacco
  • Mold or Fungus
  • Formaldehyde present in the office furniture
  • Chemicals in cleaning supplies and building materials
  • Use of Pesticide to kill insects
  • Biological contaminants

These are some of the common risk factors contributing to Sick Building Syndrome in your workplace. Now, if your office faces SBS, you can most-probably ascertain it through the symptoms.

Sick building syndrome was first identified in the 1970s and later a report by the World Health Organization in the year 1984 suggested up to 30% of the remodeled buildings might have SBSneat contributing factors.

Is your Building Suffering from it? - Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome

Is-your-Building-Suffering-from-it----Symptoms-of-Sick-Building-Syndrome

Many symptoms show the presence of SBS affecting your workers. Some of these are as follows.

  • Eyes, nose and throat Irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Runny nose
  • Different allergies at work like dust allergy
  • Inflammatory sensation in the nose
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nauseous
  • Body Pain
  • Fever
  • Workplace Stress

These medical conditions are the symptoms of sick building syndrome on your employees. Now, you must be thinking that these symptoms are pretty common for various ailments. So, here is a tip to distinguish if your employees are suffering from SBS or not.

One of the easiest ways to spot SBS is by evaluating the workers. If any worker is ill because of SBS, then he/she will only be sick while being inside the office premises. Once that person leaves the office atmosphere, the effects of sick building syndrome cease to exist.

There's your clue; if a sick worker shows signs of illness everywhere, it is not SBS.

Suggested read: The Pivotal Role of HR In Workplace Wellness Programs

Prevention of Sick Building Syndrome

Prevention-of-Sick-Building-Syndrome

1. Cleaning up

Workplace Hygiene is imperative in fighting SBS. In this regard, you should keep a neat and tidy office all the way around. To achieve this, here are some pointers that will help you.

  • Keep an eye out for accumulating mold in the office premises. You must prevent this at all costs by repairing all leaks and checking for dampness in the workplace.
  • You can also set up some fan/table fans in the dank areas to speed up the drying process after washing the place with bleach and water.
  • If you have a large workspace, then you should hire professionals for a thorough cleaning

The symptoms of sick building syndrome can be treated by reducing the exposure to the causes of these symptoms. Common allergy medications like Benadryl and Zyrtec can be used to alleviate itchy eyes, nose, and skin.

2. HVLS Fans (High-Volume, Low Speed) for Ventilation

Ventilation is a crucial part of good indoor air quality. Therefore, you must have proper provision for this aspect in the workplace. Here, you must consider the following points.

  • It is crucial to install HVLS Fans for Ventilation in the office
  • Follow the proper airflow rate of 5 cubic feet per minute/person as prescribed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

3. Maintenance of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)

For having the best quality of air inside, you must have the proper functioning of HVAC in the office. The following are the checks you need to make in this regard to fight sick building syndrome.

  • It would be best if you had proper servicing of the HVAC system with filter changes and tune-ups regularly. Changing the filter at regular intervals improves efficiency and airflow.
  • During servicing, you should also ask the technician to check for any harmful emissions coming out of the system.
  • Keep the ducts clean and check for mold in the servicing process of HVAC.

4. Filters and Air Cleaners

If your workplace emits harmful gases and other air contaminants, then air cleaner and filter are necessary. One of the classic examples of these gas emissions is while having smoke breaks at work. In this regard, you must have the proper tools to combat the situation.

Suggested read: Smoke Cessation Programs at Work

5. Open Windows

Natural air and light are always desirable in the workplace. So, if you are in a position to take advantage of these elements, you definitely should. All-natural fresh air and light into a workplace make for good air quality, which restrains SBS's entry in the first place.

  • Always open your windows in the daytime to let air and light into the office premises.
  • You should not open the windows that let harmful air into the workplace. It can be the windows facing traffic on the road or factories nearby.

6. Interior Office Decor

While preventing SBS, be careful about your interior and office decor ideas. In this regard, choose a low VOC rating paint while decorating your office. Also, avoid having products with too many chemical substances in them.

You should also consider buying office furniture made out of natural resources like wood.

These were a few measures to eliminate sick building-related illness from your office.

Suggested read: Workplace Hygiene - How to Clean Your Office the Right Way

How to ease the sick building syndromes symptoms yourselves?

You can help ease the mild symptoms of sick building syndrome by taking some of these steps.

  • Open the windows if possible, for better air ventilation

  • Set the room temperature at 18 degrees, and try not to change it often.

  • Try to reduce your stress and anxiety level.

  • Take more screen breaks and if convenient, try to leave the building or have your lunches outdoors.

  • Regular exercise might help to overcome some of the SBS symptoms.

Conclusion

Employee health is a growing issue, especially with the onset of COVID-19. Workers now need to feel safe in their workplace to function well in the long term. Thus, it is essential for the organization and the employers, to take all steps necessary in assuring safety at the office.

This article is written by Jyoti Prakash Barman. He is an in-house Content Marketer at Vantage Fit with interests in music and automobiles. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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