Is your office making you sick? or is your home making you sick? Do you know anything about Sick Building Syndrome? Sometimes indoor air is actually better than outdoor air, depending on pollution levels. But in other cases employees are working in a sort of low-level chemical stew — an unwelcome byproduct of our industrialised environment.Employees in high-rises, particularly those over parking garages or loading docks, may breathe in carbon monoxide carried into the building through the fresh-air-intake vents. And even if your indoor air isn’t polluted, you simply may not be getting enough fresh air.
What is sick building syndrome?
Before 1980, sick building syndrome did not exist. By the 1990s, it was among the most commonly investigated occupational health problems. Afflicted by headaches, rashes, and immune system disorders, office workers—mostly women—protested that their workplaces were filled with toxic hazards; yet federal investigators could detect no chemical cause. Within commercial, office, healthcare and educational settings these can impact on people’s ability to perform daily tasks and can incur huge costs. When staffing costs represent 90% of a businesses operating costs it’s easy to see how the impact of significant staff with low well-being and motivation can be on the profit margins.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are sometimes hard to distinguish, but for the most part people complain of similar issues. The most common are:
- eye irritation
- nose irritation
- throat irritation
- odor or taste sensations
- other allergic reactions
The presence of fungi or bacteria in the home or at work can not only cause allergies, but also could cause health problems such as asthma or asthma-like symptoms.
There are several factors that need considering when tackling SBS:
According to Finnish researchers there is a significant increase in sick building symptoms when room temperatures are raised from 20 to 24 degrees centigrade in offices or schools. Other international research has shown that sick building symptoms increase in line with rises in temperature.
According to the Health and Safety Executive both air and radiant temperature need to be considered. Radiant temperature (the heat that radiates from a warm object in a space eg the sun; fire; electric fires; ovens; cookers; hot surfaces etc) has a greater influence than air temperature on how we lose or gain heat to the environment.
According to the University of Technology, Sydney: ‘High levels of CO₂ (above 800 to 1000 parts per million) cause rooms to feel ‘stuffy’. But sick building syndrome-like symptoms can occur at much lower concentrations than this. When CO₂ levels are above 1000 ppm, building occupants can become quite unwell. But this level is uncommon in modern buildings thanks to efficient mechanical ventilation systems.’ However The Green Business Council Reports that decision-making is 11–23% better at 600ppm than at 1000 ppm despite the latter being seen as an acceptable level.
The Indoor Environment Dept at Berkeley, California has found that ‘increases in the ventilation rates per person among typical office buildings will, on average, significantly reduce the prevalence of SBS symptoms.
Very large increases in ventilation rates, sufficient to reduce indoor CO₂ concentrations to approximately outdoor levels, would be expected to decrease prevalence of selected symptoms by 85%. There is no direct causal link between exposure to CO₂ and SBS symptoms, but rather CO₂ is approximately correlated with other indoor pollutants that may cause SBS symptoms.’
According to the Finnish Society for Indoor Air Quality ‘Necessary ventilation requires 6 litres per second per person or 3 litres per second per one square metre of floor. At the same time the adjustment of the currents, cleanness of the filters, functioning of the heating units, cleanness of ducts and direction of incoming air should be checked.’
Air velocity is an important factor in thermal comfort because people are sensitive to the feeling of the air on their skin. The speed of air moving across a person’s skin can help cool them if it is cooler than the environment. However, drafts can occur as a result of ventilation at low temperatures or air leaks within the building.
These can be either detrimental or beneficial depending on the type and origin of the odour e.g. some natural scents can invigorate or relax the occupants of a space whereas noxious smells (from construction and furnishing materials or people) can have adverse affects.
The amount of dust can be reduced using air-filtration and cleaning methods that do not raise the dust into the air.
Relative humidity (ratio between the actual amount of water vapour in the air and the maximum amount of water vapour that the air can hold at that air temperature) should be kept between between 40% and 70% . High humidity environments have a lot of vapour in the air, which prevents the evaporation of sweat from the skin and therefore the body regulating its temperature to cool down. Too much humidity can also encourage mould fungus growth and have negative health effects.
How do you avoid sick building syndrome?
The key to making sure you, your office workers or your family at home do not begin to show symptoms is by ensuring proper air quality. This means updating your systems, keeping the inside clean and ensuring proper ventilation. Another recommended step is to get proper duct cleaning. Mr Duct Cleaning has helped many homeowners clean out their ducts, cut down on pollens, and breathe cleaner indoor air.
If the air quality is poor, spending so much time indoors at work and at home can quickly lead to health problems, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, itchy eyes, and respiratory illnesses. Sick building syndrome affects millions around the world, but can be avoided with the right help. Mr Duct Cleaning offers high-quality duct cleaning services for both residential and commercial properties in Melbourne-Wide. Contact us on 1300 673 828 today to find out how we can help.