Despite our desire to spend more time outside enjoying the fresh air, it isn’t always possible. The demands of the workplace, and inclement weather in certain parts of the country, keep us indoors for much of the time. But what if the time we spend inside office and apartment buildings is making us sick? Let’s take a closer look at how occupant well-being is linked to building health.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
Sick Building Syndrome is a disorder recognized by the World Health Organization. It describes the experience of occupants becoming physically ill as a direct result of spending time in a particular building. The symptoms include headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and lethargy. Once away from the building the symptoms vanish. While the specific sources that trigger SBS symptoms are difficult to identify, there’s a definite link to improper ventilation.
The effects to occupant well-being and costs of SBS are real. Identifying and addressing the causes requires a professional assessment and remediation.
Occupant Well-Being and SBS
People may attribute the symptoms of SBS to other causes, such as allergies, common colds, or the flu. While building occupants may suffer from these issues, SBS can also be a contributing factor.
Some symptoms of SBS include:
- Shortness of breath
More serious illnesses can occur as a result of improperly ventilated buildings. Legionnaires’ disease results when cooling towers become contaminated with legionella bacteria — also a cause of Pontiac Fever. Humidifier fever results from breathing in droplets of water contaminated with harmful microorganisms.
In larger buildings, certain zones may exist where symptoms are more acute than others due to airflow from ventilation systems. A thorough assessment by a third-party professional is needed to make a proper diagnosis. This includes an HVAC Hygiene Assessment that examines the environmental and performance data of mechanical inventory and related ductwork. This assessment is then used to devise a plan for remediation to improve occupant well-being.
What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?
There are several contributing factors to sick building syndrome. Contaminants from both outside and inside the building can lead to SBS. Chemical contaminants from outside sources, such as car exhaust, enter the building through intake vents. Biological contaminants come from carpeting and copy machines, cleaning agents and upholstery. Poor ventilation causes these contaminants to circulate throughout the building where they impact occupant well-being.
Sick building syndrome isn’t a result of negligence alone. It’s also an unfortunate byproduct of modern construction. Over 11,000 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted by much of the building materials used in construction. These compounds are also found in flooring, carpeting, and paint. Electronic equipment, even lighting, also release these compounds. Proper ventilation is needed to mitigate the negative effects of VOCs.
The Costs of Not Addressing SBS
Sick building syndrome results in worker absenteeism and reduced productivity. The morale of employees suffers, and the general well-being of the workplace is negatively impacted. A significant increase in healthcare costs can also result. SBS also affects schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings. A failure to address problems could have legal consequences. Building managers and business owners need to be proactive in identifying issues before they develop or worsen.
Solutions for Better Indoor Air Quality
Is your building making your employees or tenants sick? Make occupant well-being a priority.
Schedule a Building Health Check or an HVAC hygiene assessment with Pure Air Control Services. We are an IAQ and HVAC system-focused company in operation since 1984.
PURE-Duct from our Building Remediation Sciences division is an IAQ-driven service that takes duct cleaning to the next level. Occupant well-being and building performance are the top priorities. Our highly-trained NADCA and VSMR certified personnel follow strict guidelines for containment, equipment, and cleaning.