An office may not seem like the most hazardous environment, but it still has its dangers. Along with the health risks associated with sitting down all day and possibly poor ergonomics, office workers also have to contend with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

As a business owner it’s possible to reduce the risk of SBS by making improvements to your office. Below is an explanation to exactly what Sick Building Syndrome is and how you can protect your employees against it. 

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe any form of illness caused by spending long periods of time in the same building. People can experience SBS in their homes, but it is most commonly caused by office buildings which are poorly ventilated. This lack of ventilation can cause dust, bacteria and various toxins to build up in the air. The resulting poor air quality can cause a number of issues from nausea to serious respiratory issues.

SBS is also sometimes used to diagnose health problems caused by lack of sunlight or high indoor noise levels. Such health problems may be combined with health problems caused by poor air quality.

Employers should take SBS seriously – it could be the reason many employees keep getting sick and could lead to the development of long term health issues. At the very least, it is likely to be affecting the productivity of your employees. 

The symptoms of sick building syndrome?

Sick Building Syndrome is the result of poor indoor air quality, lack of natural light and high indoor noise levels. Together, these triggers can result in the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Throat/skin/eye irritation
  • Frequent colds
  • Fevers
  • Respiratory problems such as asthma
  • Development of heart disease and cancers
  • Depression/anxiety

How can you make your office healthier?

There are a number of ways in which you can turn your office into a ‘healthy building’. Below are just some of the best measures for preventing SBS. 

Keep on top of dust levels

High levels of dust can trigger sneezing, wheezing and general nausea. Some people can also develop a dust mite allergy that can result in more serious asthmastic symptoms, skin irritation, throat irritation or eye irritation. By regularly cleaning your office, you can prevent build-ups of dust. Try not to use a dry cloth when wiping surfaces – a wet cloth will catch the dust so that you’re not just brushing it off into the air. Regularly vacuuming carpets can also make a difference. 

Look after your HVAC

HVAC faults can negatively affect the air quality. Legionnaires, carbon monoxide poisoning and freon poisoning are some of the most dangerous risks associated with faulty air conditioning or heating. Make sure that your system is getting serviced annually. If a technician recommends replacing parts, it’s worth heeding their advice – you may be able to source your own parts online to save money such as these Carrier parts. Make sure to get any strange sounds or strange odors diagnosed immediately. 

Use less chemical products

Chemical air fresheners and cleaning products could be releasing toxins such as VOCs into the air. These toxins could be causing all kinds of health problems from nausea to eye irritation (the likes of VOCs are even believed to be carcinogenic). Switching to low-VOC or eco-friendly options could reduce any risks associated with these chemicals. 

Take action against water damage and mold

A leak or rising damp in your office could promote mold growth. This fungus can release spores into the air that are unhealthy if breathed in over prolonged periods. In fact, high levels of mold have been found to increase the risk of developing asthma and even Legionnaires disease. Make sure to get rid of any mold in your office and fix any sources of leak or damp that could promote future mold growth. 

Check your office for asbestos, lead and radon

In old office buildings, the risk of toxins developing in the air is much greater. Asbestos, lead and radon are three very dangerous toxins that should be assessed. Asbestos is a material once used for insulation that was found to be a major cause of a cancer known as mesothelioma – it’s worth removing any sources of this material from your office building to reduce the health risks. Lead was meanwhile once used in piping and paint – lead poisoning can cause organ failure and it is worth also checking your walls and water for this. As for radon, this is a toxic natural gas that can cause lung cancer when exposed to for long periods – cracks in a building’s foundations may cause this gas to seep up through the ground and build up inside an unventilated office building. A radon test kit can be used to check levels. Sealing the building’s foundations meanwhile may be able to stop radon getting in.

Add some office plants

Plants are natural air purifiers capable of removing toxins and disease from the air, while also producing fresh oxygen. Many studies have shown that plants in an office can have a positive impact on both employees’ health and productivity. You can check out some of the best types of office plants here

Look into electric purification systems

An electric air purification system could help to remove contaminants from the air such as dust, mold spores, VOCs and even gases like radon. If the air quality in your office is poor, consider investing in one of these machines. 

Allow more ventilation

Opening windows regularly might seem like an obvious solution to SBS, but some buildings don’t have windows that can be opened or may be based in polluted urban areas where the outdoor air quality is arguably worse. You may be able to invest in a high quality air ventilation system that cleans the air as it’s coming in while pumping dirty air out. Such systems may be integrated into your HVAC.

Let in more natural light

A lack of exposure to sunlight can result in vitamin D deficiency and depression. If your office doesn’t allow much natural light in, consider if there are any ways in which you can fix this. This could include moving items that are obstructing windows. Sometimes privacy can be a concern for businesses, but there may still be a way of getting around this. For instance, you could use security frosted glass windows instead of relying on blinds or shutters – this will allow light in while still distorting the view inside.

Reduce noise levels

High levels of noise in an office can negatively impact concentration and increase stress, causing headaches and high blood pressure. Some noisy offices are able to get around this by creating designated quiet areas. Cubicle partitions and acoustical ceiling tiles meanwhile are able to absorb sound.