Though more and more people are starting to work remotely due to coronavirus, at some point, many of us will head back to the office. In reality, business professionals spend about 90,000 hours throughout their lifetime in the office. That is a substantial part of our lives, and during that time at work, we come into contact with a lot of other people.

Could it be that our workplaces are making us sick? Read more to learn about sick building syndrome, its causes, and how to take action against it.

What is sick building syndrome?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the concept of the sick building syndrome stems from the idea that office occupants have shown health concerns that appear related to their time in a particular building. However, with sick building syndrome, the concept is complicated as no specific illness or medical cause can be indicated.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is primarily attributed to low indoor air quality. Though more common in older and remodeled buildings, it can impact newer buildings as well.

Sick building syndrome causes

The EPA uses the term Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) when they cannot determine the exact cause of symptoms but can ascertain with reasonable confidence that the illness is stemming from a particular building. The most likely causes of SBS include inadequate ventilation systems, especially in schools, offices, and public spaces such as shopping malls, libraries, etc. These are the most common causes:

  • High levels of dust
  • Rooms with low lighting or obsolete and old computer monitors that create eye strain
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Chemical influencers such as formaldehyde (frequently found in wood floors and furniture), asbestos, pesticides, and chemicals from cleaning products
  • The presence of mold and fungus
  • Excessive heat or high humidity
  • Animal or pest droppings
  • Carbon monoxide
  •  High levels of stress for employees, noisy work environments, and low morale 
sick building syndrome

Sick building syndrome symptoms

The symptoms associated with SBS can affect your respiratory and neurological systems, as well as your skin. SBS can easily be mistaken for a cold or influenza. Those who regularly suffer from seasonal or environmental allergies may notice increased allergy symptoms. Those with asthma tend to experience more frequent attacks.

Typical symptoms of SBS, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine are:

  • Allergy-like symptoms, such as sneezing
  • Body aches including joint and muscle pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Burning sensations in the nose
  • Chills
  • Difficulty concentrating and mental confusion
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Dry, itchy skin rashes
  • Fatigue

SBS impacts people in varying ways. Some people may experience all symptoms, while others may experience just a few or none. However, the cause of the symptoms is relatively unknown, and occupants tend to feel better shortly after leaving the building.

Sick Building Syndrome is often diagnosed through a process of elimination. Doctors will work with patients to rule out other potential health concerns such as asthma, allergies, cold, and flu. They will ask patients about their home and work environments and rule out possible causes.

When an apparent cause is not determined, the doctor may ask their patients to keep a daily journal of activities for a week or two. When reviewing the journal, the doctor may pinpoint that the patient’s symptoms increase when they go to the office and get better when they leave.

How to prevent sick building syndrome

Employers can lessen the risk and impact of SBS by employing proper cleaning techniques. In particular, they can obtain a test to seek out potential mold or fungus. Janitorial staff will be asked to change out air filters more frequently, replace lights with LEDs or blue lights, and use natural cleaning products void of fumes and fragrances. It is also best to assess the HVAC system for appropriate humidity levels.

Many employers that suspect SBS has hit their building will elect to invest in air purification systems. These systems can help to remove airborne contaminants by sanitizing the air. These systems act as an impactful complement to a clean air filter and help remove up to 99% of the building environment’s germs. Moving more clean air throughout the building while working to prevent biological growth is the best solution to preventing SBS bouts.

sick building syndrome in the office

Like mentioned before, old buildings are more likely to have SBS, and usually their HVAC systems cannot support a MERV-13 filter or higher, which is the new recommended standard.

For this reason, adding a portable air system to the office is the best solution to increase ventilation, remove, and neutralize odors, VOCs, and pathogens. The EnviroKlenz Air System Plus is a great option to add to the workplace since it utilizes a 3-stage filtration system to improve indoor air quality. Besides having the standard medical-grade HEPA filter that captures 99.99% of particles, the EnviroKlenz Air Cartridge captures and neutralizes odors and VOCs, as well as 99.9% of pathogens in the air (including virus and bacteria). On top of both filters, the system also includes UV-C lights to provide maximum germicidal destruction and sterilization of the inside of the machine.

Building managers that do not take SBS seriously can create serious derogatory consequences for building occupants. When employees do not feel well, their productivity naturally decreases. Not only are employees more likely to call in sick and miss work time altogether, but they are also likely to ramp back up slowly once they return, especially if the condition re-presents itself.


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EnviroKlenz® Medical Disclaimer:

“Any information that is provided on this website is not for the use by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog author. The material and statements illustrated within this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases or medical conditions. Nor does the author in any way guarantee or validate the validity, totality, or efficacy of any claims and will therefore not be held responsible for the content of any claims. Always consult your medical physician for any specific medical advice or recommendations.”

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