The so-called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) has been shown to have risks to health, mainly for people working in buildings.
Awareness of SBS has been growing since the 1960s and International status was accorded to SBS in 1982 when the World Health Organisation formally recognised the condition.
Symptoms include dry and itchy skin, dry eyes/nose/throat, stuffy nose, headaches and lethargy. The symptoms tend to worsen with time spent in the building, and usually disappear when the person is away from the building.
SBS is a convenient term used to describe a range of common symptoms, which for no obvious reason are associated with some buildings.
SBS is not as yet a recognised illness and cannot be diagnosed precisely.
It should not be confused with other building related illness such as humidifier fever, legionnaire’s disease, and the effects of exposure to particular toxic substances.
Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent work-related accidents and ill health – including SBS.
There are general duties on all employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (S.I. No 1992 2051) to assess and reduce risks and ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) the health and safety of employees, and others who may be affected by work.
Other regulations apply in specific situations. For example, The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (S.I No 1992 3004) will apply to any specific problem relating to inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, cleanliness etc. that can be associated with SBS symptoms.
The causes of SBS are unknown but a number of factors are likely to be involved combining in different ways in different situations. These include both physical, environmental factors and job related factors.
Some common factors associated with SBS include:
- air-conditioned offices with large open plan areas
- low levels of staff control over ventilation, heating and lighting
- bad design and maintenance of building services
- poor standards of general repair
- poorly organised office cleaning services.
Factors causing SBS appear to include routine clerical work and working with display screen equipment.
There is as yet no reliable source of information about how widespread the problem is or how much of a burden it is for industry.
There is no evidence as yet of any permanent health effect but it seems almost any worker can be affected by SBS.
SBS appears most commonly in those employed in large office buildings and in particular those who have little control over their work environment and are employed in routine clerical work.
It seems women are more at risk than men but this could simply be due to the fact that more women are employed in these types of work.
Preventing SBS in buildings involves good building design, good maintenance and good monitoring to ensure that the building performs as intended.
Where SBS is suspected, the problem should be investigated promptly and a systemic approach taken to eliminate the causes, starting with the most likely sources.
Source – HSE Publications
Posted – October 2003