What is Sick Building Syndrome?

What is SBS?

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a phrase which describes a malaise affecting some people working in office buildings.

What are the symptoms?

Many of the symptoms are common in the community at large and may reflect what is normal in your area for the time of year. The symptoms include:

 

  • Sore eyes;
  • Dry throats;
  • Chest complaints, such as breathing difficulty infections;
  • Headaches;
  • Lethargy; and
  • Skin irritations.

 

What are thought to be the causes of SBS?

In over three decades of workplace auditing in thousands of buildings, Assurity Consulting has not come across a situation of staff discomfort which could not be explained by some specific cause. Researchers have suggested that SBS could be attributed to psychological factors e.g. lack of motivation causing lethargy.  Surveys have indicated that where the workforce has greater control over their work environment their feeling of wellbeing is increased.

 Many of the symptoms experienced by occupants in suspect buildings are related to:

  • Low humidity;
  • Poor lighting;
  • Thermal imbalance; or
  • High levels of carbon dioxide.

Inadequate maintenance standards, poorly designed work areas and unbalanced ventilation systems can also contribute to these symptoms.

How can you prove that a building is sick or healthy?

Where staff perceives that their building is sick, their concerns can be addressed though an Assurity Consulting Workplace Environmental Assessment. An assessment of workplace comfort conditions covers:

  • Temperature;
  • Humidity;
  • Airflow velocity;
  • Lighting;
  • Gas levels e.g. carbon dioxide or monoxide;
  • Dust levels, airborne particle counts, air sample for microorganisms.

These tests can help determine the causes of many mysterious illnesses. Quality assured reports demonstrating that the working environment is healthy can dispel the rumours that a building is sick.

What guidance exists on SBS?

The HSE have produced a guidance document for SBS called How to deal with SBS: Guidance for employers, building owners and building managers, HS (G) 132, ISBN 0-7176-0861-1. BSRIA (TN2/2002) have produced a guide called Building-related sickness; causes, effects and ways to avoid it. In addition to this publication, the CIBSE have designed key questions to help you investigate claims of SBS as part of their Building Health Check Protocol.  In the documentation, which accompanies the questionnaire, they list a number of factors which are likely to increase the risk of a building becoming sick.  However, they do state that the absence of all or any of these factors should not be used as justifications for not carrying out a building health check.

This guide is of a general nature; specific advice can be obtained from Assurity Consulting. Assurity Consulting is the UK's leading independent compliance consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. We have over 30 years' experience of helping customers of all sizes, from across all sectors, manage their compliance responsibilities, making sure that their organisation is compliant, their employees are safe, their processes are cost effective and their management team is in control.

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