Millions of men and women every year battle through mysterious symptoms and illnesses at work. Strangely, most of these symptoms seem to vanish once they leave the building. These people are suffering from Sick Building Syndrome, a poorly understood condition caused by the structures these people work in day after day.
Sick Building Syndrome is often considered a silent danger because unlike other structural issues with a building, it is hard to detect.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick Building Syndrome is the name given to an occupational disease where people suffer a variety of cold and flu-like symptoms while at work. These symptoms are caused by a variety of different environmental pollutants that are constantly recycled through the building’s HVAC system. Often, pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and mold fester inside of the different parts of the system, hidden from all but the most thorough inspections.
Often clusters of employees will all report the same set of symptoms. At first, it is often thought to be a simple virus that is spreading from one employee to another. However, with Sick Building Syndrome the symptoms never go away as long as people are at the office. People can deal with a variety of symptoms for years every time they get to work.
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Why Does Sick Building Syndrome Matter?
Sick Building Syndrome not only makes people’s lives miserable, but it can lead to a host of other conditions. It costs businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity and increased absenteeism every year.
This condition makes it difficult for people to concentrate. It often affects entire floors or zones of a building. In particularly bad situations, employees have been known to refuse to work in certain parts of the building because everyone who works there develops the Sick Building Syndrome symptoms. It can make entire zones of a building economically useless.
It is a public health issue and a serious economic issue for employers and property owners.
Understanding the Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome has a variety of different components. Typically the air quality is much lower than in a healthy building, and considerably lower than the clean, fresh air outside.
Some of the common pollutants that have been linked to Sick Building Syndrome include:
- Toxins from cleaning materials
- Microscopic environmental toxins from carpets, flooring, and insulation
Even though the type and quantity of contaminants will vary widely, even among buildings where Sick Building Syndrome is common, the root cause of the problem is the same.
The poor air quality that is associated with Sick Building Syndrome develops because HVAC units are recycling the same air all through the building. Many times HVAC systems even become hosts to colonies of mold, bacteria, and other pathogens that use the airflow to travel through the building.
Sick Building Syndrome is most common in buildings with tight, energy efficient HVAC systems where outside air is kept to a bare minimum.
How to Prevent Sick Building Syndrome
Since Sick building Syndrome was first noticed in the 1970s, we have come a long way in understanding how to prevent it. The key is to allow large amounts of fresh, outside air to circulate through the building. However, due to costs and worries about energy efficiency many buildings still use old types of HVAC systems that make Sick Building Syndrome more likely.
Fortunately, thanks to cutting edge technology it is now possible to have energy efficient HVAC units that also use fresh outside air to keep the building and its occupants healthier.
However, until more people are made aware of this new solution, millions will still be forced to work in places that are making them sick and their work lives miserable.
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