Could Your Place of Work Actually Be Making You Sick?
There’s a phenomenon that’s currently gaining prevalence and global attention. It’s called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and it’s an actual thing.
Sick Building Syndrome is characterized by workers who feel sick upon entering their place of employment and almost immediately feel better after leaving. And no, we’re not talking about a “case of the Mondays;” we’re referring to actual, measurable symptoms with a very real medical diagnosis.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome include a sore throat, itchy and red eyes, sneezing, headaches, and fatigue. Oftentimes, if a person suffers from asthma or allergies, their symptoms become even worse in their office building.
If you’ve guessed that Sick Building Syndrome is caused by poor indoor air quality, you’re absolutely right! In fact, offices make for the perfect breeding grounds for mold, mildew, odors, and airborne bacteria and viruses, no matter how new or old the building is.
Workers aren’t the only ones affected by Sick Building Syndrome. Even organizations feel the toll of this condition. One Harvard School of Public Health study found that preventable absenteeism due to poor air quality costs a company on average $480 per worker every year in lost productivity. If you’re a business owner, this news is important! Sick Building Syndrome is real and it’s not just hurting your employees—it’s hurting your bottom line.
These are the most common ways indoor office air becomes contaminated and can lead to SBS:
- Carbon monoxide brought in through vents, especially in high rises and buildings attached or near parking lots and garages.
- Secondhand smoke carried inside when smokers congregate too close to outdoor air vents.
- Ozone emissions from printers and fax machines.
- Exterminator’s residue, which can linger up to weeks in carpets.
- Harsher cleaning products typically used in offices linger in the air.
- Construction dust from building renovations, even from a different floor.
- New paint fumes and off-gassing emissions from carpets and new building materials.
Poor air quality doesn’t just cause allergy-like symptoms, either. The World Health Organization has classified air pollution as a carcinogen that kills more than seven million people every year. In the United States, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and is responsible for and estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths on average annually. OSHA reports that an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 cancer deaths a year are attributed to air pollution exposure in the workplace.
Whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a human resources supervisor, or a building manager, there are a few critically important measures you can take to help improve air quality in your office or building. The following are the recommended steps:
- Ensure proper ventilation in accordance with current regulations.
- Make sure comfort factors are acceptable to the majority (including temperature, humidity, and air movement).
- Mechanical equipment and surfaces are maintained and sanitary.
- Significant emission sources, like copiers, printers, and fax machines, are separated from workers.
- Major sources of chemical contaminations are promptly controlled.
- Occupied areas are regularly cleaned.
- Regular measurement for formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, ozone, and respirable particles.
- Routinely exam the building’s ventilation system.
- Install and regularly maintain and service work area air filters.
Healthy offices begin with clean air. Indoors, one of the most effective things organizations can do to protect their workers from air contamination is installing premium air filtration systems that are effective in removing most, if not all, air pollutants. For the best in air filtration, look for purifiers that remove even the smallest of particles, are energy efficient, and effectively remove an upward of 99% of contaminants from the air.
 Levine, S. (2013). A healthy office begins with clean air. Retrieved from http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4331-employee-health-office-air-quality.html
 Woolston, C. (2015). Sick building syndrome: is your office making you sick? Retrieved from http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/asthma-and-allergies-4/asthma-news-47/sick-building-syndrome-is-your-office-making-you-sick-646729.html
 Better Building Works. (2014). Is your building making your employees sick? Retrieved from http://betterbuildingworks.com/blog/item/206-is-your-building-making-your-employees-sick
 AIHA (n.d.) Improving indoor air quality at work. Retrieved from https://www.aiha.org/about-ih/Pages/Improving-Indoor-Air-Quality-at-Work.aspx
 Joshi, S.M. (2008). The sick building syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796751/