Is Your Home Making You Sick?

Almost everyone occasionally feels unwell because they are suffering from one or more common symptoms of discomfort such as headaches, dry throat or sore eyes. But there are occasions when, for no obvious reasons, people working in particular buildings experience these sorts of symptoms more often than is usual.The symptoms tend to increase in severity with time spent in the building and improve over time or disappear away from the building. This is often described as Sick Building Syndrome.

The main symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome are:

  • dry or itchy skin or skin rash
  • dry or itchy eyes, nose or throat
  • headaches, lethargy, irritability, or poor concentration
  • stuffy or runny nose

The symptoms are often mild and do not appear to cause any lasting damage. To those suffering, however, they are not trivial and can cause considerable distress. In severe cases, they can affect attitudes to work and may represent a significant cost to business in the form of:

  • reduced staff efficiency
  • increased absenteeism and staff turnover
  • extended breaks and reduced overtime
  • lost time complaining and dealing with complaints.

Sick Building Syndrome is not a recognised illness. It is simply a convenient term to describe a particular phenomenon and cannot be diagnosed precisely. It should not be confused with specific illnesses that can be directly associated with workplaces, such as humidifier fever, legionnaire’s disease, the effects of exposure to specific toxic substances in the workplace or to long-term cumulative hazards such as asbestos and radon. It does not cover discomfort from adverse physical conditions in the workplace such as excessive noise, heat or cold. How to deal with sick building syndrome (SBS) Page 6 of 20 Health and Safety Executive

What causes Sick Building Syndrome?

Despite extensive research we do not know the cause of Sick Building Syndrome. However, we do know that it is likely to be due to a combination of factors, the relative importance of which will be different in each case. Broadly, these factors fall into two categories:

  • Physical or environmental factors – covering physical conditions, e.g. ventilation, cleaning and maintenance, and workstation layout;
  • Job factors – such as the variety and interest of particular jobs and people’s ability to control certain aspects of their work and working environment.

What steps can be taken to prevent Sick Building Syndrome?

Ventilation, lighting and heating are the main areas that can be addressed.

Indoor environment and air quality

  • Avoid high temperature or excessive variations in temperature during the day.
  • Prevent high humidity in wet rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms
  • Limit the use of chemical pollutants, eg cleaning detergents, tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds from building materials and furnishings
  • Keep dust and fibres in the atmosphere to a minimum.