BrodexTrident Blog

What is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) - and are you at risk?

Portrait of a tired casual businesswoman standing in office.jpeg

At this time of year it’s commonplace for employees to fall ill, victims of the dreaded winter lurgy. However it’s not just the predictable spread of seasonal germs in workplaces we must habitually ward off, as the post-Christmas blues are also known to trigger what’s clinically referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder; or SAD for short. But just how many of you have ever heard of Sick Building Syndrome? Completing the seemingly Holy Trinity of often work-based illnesses, Sick Building Syndrome is a relatively new health condition, yet one which is wasting no time in catching up with the tried and tested means of us all feeling a little (or a lot, as the individual case may be) under the weather. And whilst both colds and SAD tend to strike the unsuspecting either in the lead up to, during or immediately after the festive period, Sick Building Syndrome can present itself at pretty much any given time or place.

The most accurate description of just what Sick Building Syndrome (or SBS) is and how it manifests is as follows. Essentially it’s a universally recognised medical condition whereby people in buildings suffer from various symptoms of illness, but for no obvious or apparent reason at the time they first complain of being unwell. A range of symptoms are then linked to a passage of time spent in a particular building, despite the fact that no specific illness (or indeed, cause) can be identified. Such symptoms can include the likes of headache (and/or dizziness), nausea, blocked or runny nose dry (and/or) itchy skin, dry (and/or) sore eyes, breathlessness, unaccountable aches and pains, rashes and tiredness/fatigue/difficulty concentrating; although this is by no means an exhaustive list of possible ailments related to the physical manifestation of SBS.

<BrodexTrident provide indoor air quality test services that can aid in sick building syndrome prevention>

Unsurprisingly, sufferers of SBS might well be confronted with the usual accusations of hypochondria by those who have no first-hand experience of what it’s like to deal with Sick Building Syndrome, while other critics might unfairly imply that you’re ‘just workshy’. Naturally enough your cause is not helped when the classic symptoms of SBS somehow, almost miraculously, lift once you remove yourself from a workspace; yet this is commonly reported by those inflicted by the NHS-acknowledged medical condition. Seriously, many sufferers’ ailments have a habit of lessening in intensity (or in some instance, actually disappearing) just as soon as they leave the office (or various other typical workplaces) and venture out into the street for example. Studies undertaken on Sick Building Syndrome in recent years have revealed that more often than not there’s a greater likelihood that those employees habitually completing the remits of their roles within open-plan office spaces are more susceptible to feeling the physical effects of SBS; although elsewhere those employed in schools, libraries, museums and other busy environments are known to equally as prone.

What Causes Sick Building Syndrome and who’s At Most Risk?

In terms of the causes of SBS, it’s been suggested that the health-compromising condition is more prevalent in people who perform more routine jobs, with those who regularly sit at a desk in front of a computer the most at risk. But that’s not to say a raft of vocations can, potentially, provide the right working conditions for SBS to present in one form or another. Indeed, air conditioning systems are often pinpointed as to blame for the onset of the condition in some sufferers, with symptoms noted very similar to those observed when travelling by plane. The applied logic is that should you take a flight you ordinarily disembark feeling fine, if not a little tired, yet unwittingly leave with the full gamut of germs which freely circulated on board, thanks to the air con distributing said germs. However there remains no definitive cause of Sick Building Syndrome, despite time, effort and funding being put into the continued study of the topic. And it’s fair to say that in all probability it’s the result of a combination of factors which may (or may not) comprise of poor/insufficient means of ventilation (essentially, sub-standard maintenance of air conditioning systems), the presence of dust/smoke/fumes or fabric fibres hanging in the air/head space of employees together with talk of bright or flickering lights playing a pivotal role. Meanwhile low humidity, changes in office temperature, standards of office cleanliness (dust, carpet fibres or fungal spores) and airborne particles can all contribute.

Ways in which to realistically minimise the symptoms of SBS, or proactively help the avoidance of the condition taking hold from the outset, would include the following procedures and practices for individuals, according to health experts;

  • Always open windows to improve ventilation, as and where possible
  • Create an ambient temperature in the workplace (ideally in the region of 19C) and ensure that it’s not subject to alteration throughout the day/shift cycle)
  • Look to reduce stress – and the causes of stress – within your workplace
  • Aim to take regular 10-minute screen breaks (for those whose job is computer-based) during the course of the working day
  • In conjunction with the above tip, try and venture outdoors to take in some fresh air, either during your designated lunchtime and/or other breaks you’re entitled to
  • Eat healthily, as diet play an important role in general health and wellbeing per se
  • Maintain a regular exercise program, and be ever mindful of keeping a good posture when at your workstation

What Should I Do if I Think I May be Suffering from Sick Building Syndrome?

Your first port of call if you believe you may be experiencing the symptoms of SBS is to inform your employer (or immediate manager). Effectively the individual who is deemed responsible for your welfare while under the employ of a business. An increasing number of companies are becoming aware of the condition and moreover how it might impact on both the sufferer and of course, the business itself. In light of this the Government’s Health and Safety Executive has published a guide to specifically dealing with Sick Building Syndrome which underlines the potential cost to the employer in the event of larger numbers of staff falling victim to the condition. Ultimately SBS can have an accumulative effect on staff turnover and extended sick days. Ergo it’s in everyone’s best interests to work to eliminate the recognised factors which can influence its presence and/or provide a perfect breeding ground.

Not sure that you have the proper air quality checks in place? Request a no obligation quote today from our expert consultants who can talk you through your compliance requirements today.

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