What Is Sick-Building Syndrome (and How to Prevent It)

sick woman

Are your employees getting sick at the same time? Is there a high occurrence of headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and asthma attacks among your workforce? If you think it’s only because of flu and allergy season, think again. You and your employees could be suffering from the sick-building syndrome.

What is Sick-Building Syndrome (SBS)?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) refers to it as “indoor air quality.” If it’s terrible and affects 20% of your company’s workers, they could declare your place of work as a “sick building.”

The symptoms for the sick-building syndrome are similar to the common cold and affect a person’s respiratory, dermatological, and neurological systems. These could include:

  • Throat irritations
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue
  • Body aches and fever
  • Chills and nausea
  • Itchy rashes all over the body

If an employee has a pre-existing condition like asthma or any other respiratory problem, bad indoor air quality could exacerbate their illnesses and give them frequent attacks. Medical professionals can diagnose SBS instead of the common cold if the occurrence of these symptoms happens at work but get better when they’re outside or at home.

What does this mean for your business? Chronic absenteeism from your employees, which, in turn, affects people’s workload and productivity.

What Causes SBS?

dirty ventExperts believe there are three leading causes of SBS, mostly to do with air particles.

  1. Improper ventilation

This problem is especially rampant in old buildings. Here’s a not-so-fun fact: the term “sick-building syndrome” was coined in the 1970s by medical professionals when buildings were not well-ventilated, and there was an energy crisis going on. It wasn’t till after the energy crisis that buildings were made more energy-efficient and adequately ventilated.

  1. Chemical contaminants inside the building

Experts believe that fumes from adhesives, paint, carpet flooring, and even cleaning agents emit volatile organic compounds that irritate people’s immune systems. That, coupled with improper ventilation, could potentially make people sick.

  1. Chemical contaminants from outside the building

Again, this goes back to improper ventilation. Chemical contaminants from outside could include fumes from motor vehicles and industrial plants. Common causes of air pollution could circulate inside your building if it’s not up to code and there are areas where these fumes could seep through.

How Can You Prevent SBS?

The prevention of SBS lies in a combination of factors.

  • Test your office’s interiors for the possible presence of mold and fungus. Even at low levels, they could still affect your respiratory system. Take steps accordingly if their presence is detected.
  • If you’re regularly employing commercial sanitation services, verify the safety of their cleaning products.
  • Make sure your air filters are clean and periodically change them. Most experts recommend changing them out every two months, but it’s better if you change it more frequently.
  • If you have carpet flooring, make sure that they are thoroughly and frequently vacuumed.
  • Advise your employees to take frequent breaks and walk around outside for fresh air now and then. Not only will this prevent SBS, but it would also do wonders for their mental health.

If you own your own business, you are responsible for the health and wellness of your employees while they are working for you. Ensuring that your office space is free from any chemicals and fumes that could be hazardous to their health should be your first step towards that goal.

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