Understanding Sick Building Syndrome

Understanding Sick Building SyndromeDo your employees regularly complain of allergy-like symptoms at work? Do you find yourself suffering from chronic respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches and/or mysterious skin rashes? A few isolated incidents might just be the result of the common cold, but widespread cases of chronic health complaints may be caused by a condition called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Pay close attention to when the symptoms flare up as well. Do they get worse at work, and improve once you return home? This is a telltale sign of SBS.

Let’s take a look at a few common causes of SBS.

Buildings with inadequate ventilation tend to be especially prone to cases of SBS. Without proper ventilation, odorless volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can build up in the air and cause symptoms characteristic of asthma and allergies. Things such as carpeting and cleaning products can release these VOCs unbeknownst to the people in the affected building. Other, less tangible causes of SBS include psychosocial factors such as constrictive office layouts and poor relationships with coworkers.

So what can we do to eliminate SBS?

We can start by taking steps to eliminate airborne VOCs. In 1989, NASA conducted a Clean Air Study that identified a number of common houseplants that can effectively cleanse the air and minimize VOC concentrations in a building. Outfitting a building with a more effective ventilation system can also keep VOC levels to a minimum.

Pay close attention to the layout of your office as well. A claustrophobic office is more likely to elicit symptoms of SBS. If necessary, reorganize your furniture to make your workspace more comfortable or invest in new, ergonomically designed furniture. Be mindful of the interpersonal relationships between your employees as well; morale can have a significant influence on the degree to which SBS affects people.

Bear in mind that sick office is generally not an especially productive one. Likewise, it’s in the best interest of executives to take SBS seriously and find ways to keep their employees happy and healthy.