Back in the 1980’s a condition commonly called “sick building syndrome”(SBS) first began to come to the public’s attention. Although the sick building syndrome has often been associated with a person’s place of residence, it is important to know that this problem often occurs in commercial buildings. After all, many people spend as much time at the office as they do at home. Your place of employment may literally be making you sick.
Introducing Sick Building Syndrome
Sick building syndrome is a combination of physical symptoms that come about as a result of spending extended periods of time in a certain building, such as the home or workplace. There are many things about SBS that are still not fully understood; however, there are some common factors associated with this phenomenon that may indicate some of the possible causes. Closed buildings with mechanical ventilation or air conditioning have been found to be the most at risk.
The symptoms associated with SBS can include general aches and pains, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. Eye, ear, nose, throat, and skin irritation, and difficulty breathing are other common complaints. You may experience one symptom or a combination of symptoms, and your coworkers may or may not have the same ailments you are having.
Health Effects of SBS
The fact that SBS is often associated with inadequate ventilation stands to reason since buildings with those characteristics are particularly susceptible to bacterial contaminants. Molds and mildew find an excellent breeding ground in stagnant water that collects in drain pans, humidifiers, ducts, and insulation. Molds can also grow on ceiling tiles and carpeting. Most people are aware by now that exposure to mold can be hazardous to your health.
When mold spores are inhaled, particularly by those who have allergies or asthma, it can result in ailments that run the gamut from mild to serious. Certain types of mold can cause infections in the respiratory system, especially in those who have weak immune systems. Inhaling large doses of the dangerous types of molds can even be toxic.
What You and Your Employer Should Do About It
If you are experiencing any type of “mystery symptoms” that you suspect may be a result of sick building syndrome it is important that you take action. If symptoms are worse when you are at work and seem to subside when you leave the office, it is reasonable to assume that you could very well be suffering from the symptoms of sick building syndrome. Talk to your health and safety representative at your place of business.
Remember that your employer has a responsibility to keep you safe in the workplace. Your employer should find out through the use of surveys if other employees are experiencing any symptoms of SBS. It is also the responsibility of your employer to check the general cleanliness of the building, heat, air conditioning, and ventilation systems, and to ensure systems are being regularly cleaned and maintained. Being aware of the very real problem of sick building syndrome, and taking the necessary steps in diagnosis and prevention is the key to a healthy workplace.