We don’t normally think that buildings can get sick, but the atmosphere inside a structure can certainly make you ill. When conditions inside a building cause occupants to experience health symptoms and reduced comfort, then the building is labeled with Sick Building Syndrome. Whether the complaints are localized or widespread, the condition is serious and remedies must be put in place.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
The symptoms range from mild to potentially very serious. It might start with some depressions, dry skin, headaches, irritability and nosebleeds. However, more serious symptoms include miscarriages, pregnancy problems, tremors and even cancer.
The most obvious signs of a problem include a burning in the eyes, nose or trachea that is only present when in the building. Chronic fatigue is an issue, as well as sensitivity to odors or serious swelling of the legs, ankles and trunk.
Every major organ in the human body is at risk from SBS. You should be wary anytime you experience physical ailments inside a structure that are alleviated upon exiting the building. You should also be concerned if other building occupants are complaining about the same symptoms. Some symptoms can take several hours to fade away, so you should look at the building more closely if your symptoms seem to vanish any time you are away from the building for a few days.
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
One of the biggest causes of SBS is poor ventilation inside buildings. As we strive to achieve better energy efficiency, we are sealing buildings tightly against the outdoor air. Fresh air is unable to circulate through the building, so contaminants are constantly moved through the ventilation system.
Sources of indoor pollution are extensive and dangerous. It includes adhesives used to make furniture or secure flooring. The volatile organic compounds found in carpeting, upholstery, pesticides and even cleaning agents of gas into the air and will linger there. Bacteria, molds, viruses and pollen that enter a building on people or through open doors are often trapped and will spread once inside.
While SBS can affect any structure, office buildings are particularly at risk. This is partly because they usually do not feature windows that can open, and the higher number of people moving through means that there is greater opportunity for contaminants to enter the building. This puts office workers in one of the highest risk groups because they are often in that environment for 40 or more hours every week.
Treatment of Sick Building Syndrome
The first step for battling SBS is for people to recognize the problem and address it. If all the employees in a building keep taking aspirin to deal with their headaches, then the problem will never be corrected. Whether the problem is at home or work, it should be addressed promptly.
Treatment involves a multi-pronged approach. The pollutants in the building should be removed with thorough cleaning and sources of mold should be removed. Ventilation rates must be increased to ensure that healthy, fresh air replaces the stale, contaminated air on a regular basis. The air should also be cleaned with the addition of better filters and air cleaners. Finally, building occupants should be educated about the symptoms and causes of SBS. With an aggressive response, this condition can be reversed for the health of all occupants.
It is your responsibility to pay attention to your health and take positive steps if you suspect SBS. If you own the property, you should invest in improving indoor air quality and making the structure safe. If you are an employee, you should bring it to your manager’s attention. If they will not correct the situation, you should leave the building to safeguard your own health. Employers have a responsibility to provide you with a safe working environment, and there are laws in place to ensure that you have a safe place to work. Contact your health and safety representative if you have any questions about your employer’s duties and your rights.