Here’s a fact: exposing employees to poor air quality is increasing their likelihood to suffer from sick building syndrome (SBS). This health issue often happens to building occupants who experience acute health effects in enclosed spaces with poor air quality. According to a study, this syndrome decreases productivity and increases absenteeism at work.
The term “sick building syndrome” started during the 1970s, which used to describe the condition of building occupants who suffer from a wide variety of symptoms that triggers when inside a poorly ventilated building. The symptoms have a direct association with the physical environment, which can lead to increased health issues for employees working in office buildings.
The increasing awareness about the effects of SBS led employers to take action by improving the air quality in work environments. These techniques involve maintaining air ducts and vents, adding office plants, and keeping the office clean. Some companies are joining the cause by selling industrial air compressor filters to help businesses achieve the cleanest air possible for their employees.
The SBS is a growing health issue in the workforce that requires proper addressing and treatment. Maintaining quality air can go a long way in improving the productivity of your business. With this in mind, this article will discuss the causes and health implications of SBS and what you can do as an employer to protect the health of your workforce.
Primary causes of sick building syndrome
Back in the 70s, regulatory agencies and building owners began a movement in reducing energy consumption to save on fuel costs for air conditioning and heating. Their measures focused on increasing insulation to minimize loss of cooled or heated air. Because of this, modern buildings became airtight that lead to the build-up of harmful agents, such as airborne allergens, inhalable particles, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals.
Building decors also contributed to poor air quality, including wallboards, furniture, paints, and carpet fibers. These products contain harmful chemicals that endanger the respiratory system. Even office equipment such as electrostatic air cleaners and copiers made the problem worse by increasing the ozone level. Damp conditions that result in mildew and mold formation also add up to air quality issues.
The problem is particularly worse for factories that use manufacturing equipment and processes that produce smog, hydrocarbons, and chemical agents. These air pollutants form a chemical stew in the atmosphere that makes building occupants feel sick.
Other causes behind SBS may also include dust, tobacco smoke, poor ventilation, poor lighting, outdated computer screens, pesticides, and low humidity. But given the number of culprits that result in SBS, experts cannot identify the main cause of the syndrome.
Symptoms of sick building syndrome
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthy, a building gets labeled as a “sick building” if 20% of the workforce is suffering from the following symptoms: watery eyes, dry and itchy skin, headaches, dizziness, nausea, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, tremors, and chronic fatigue, among others. Another revealing factor is when the employee is not experiencing symptoms while on vacation or at home.
Those with allergies or respiratory illness will notice a sudden worsening of their condition. For instance, employees with asthma are more likely to experience frequent asthma attacks.
Depending on the health condition, SBS affects people differently. The symptoms may also vary based on the amount of time the person spends inside the building. In some cases, a few workers are lucky enough not to experience the symptoms. Meanwhile, others who are subjected to long-term and repeated exposure may still experience symptoms even after they left the building.
Treatment for SBS
You can prevent the harmful effects of SBS by reducing exposure to the primary causes of the symptoms and taking proper medications to ease the symptoms. Allergy medicines can ease itching on the skin, nose, and eyes. Zyrtec, Benadryl, and other over-the-counter options also work. Asthma patients with breathing difficulties may take the same medications to treat asthma, such as inhalers and leukotriene modifiers.
Employers are responsible to maintain a healthy office environment that is free from contaminants. They should also provide workspaces where the temperature and humidity levels are adjustable. Other measures may also include using the vacuum cleaner to eliminate dust, replacing air filters, updating display systems, and buying eco-friendly cleaning products and equipment.
Employers need to recognize the role of indoor air quality in affecting the health of their employees. SBS is not only a health threat for office workers, but it can bring significant costs for businesses through frequent absences and low productivity. To protect employees’ health, employers should create a smarter business move to prevent or reduce SBS in work environments. This is necessary to establishing comprehensive protective measures to remove agents and pollutants that cause health catastrophes among employees.