Here’s a scenario: You wake up in the morning, get ready for work and head to the office ready to tackle some important tasks. But shortly after starting work, you start to feel kind of tired and lose focus. Then a headache starts to set in. It almost feels like you’re fighting off a cold.
Does this sound familiar? Are you actually getting sick? Maybe not. Instead, it’s very possible that your building is sick.
Why do I feel sick at work?
We’ve talked to you a little bit about Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building-Related Illness (BRI) in previous articles. In sum, SBS and BRI describe a set of occupant symptoms related to poor IAQ, indoor pollutants or design of a building.
Building Related Illness Symptoms
Symptoms of BRI include coughing, chest tightness, fevers, chills and muscle aches that do not improve for a prolonged period after leaving the suspected building environment. BRI symptoms have been clinically defined and specific treatment can be prescribed for these illnesses.
Sick Building Syndrome Symptoms
In contrast, SBS does not have a clinically-recognized set of symptoms. Most commonly, SBS symptoms tend to appear and intensify while occupants are in the building, and quickly dissipate after the person leaving the building. SBS symptoms can include eye, nose, or throat irritation; itchy or irritated skin; dry cough; headaches; dizziness and nausea; trouble concentrating and fatigue.
When are symptoms the worst?
Spring time is a very common season for these problems to arise. Building systems are switching from heat to cooling, there’s excess moisture in the ground and allergy season is building steam. Of course, outdoor conditions can affect building health at any time of year, but we tend to see the most overlap in causes in the spring time.
How is this different from allergies?
SBS and BRI result from a combination of factors (see above) that create an overall unhealthy indoor environment. Usually, a specific trigger can be identified as the cause of allergy and asthma symptoms. But most of the time, no single cause can be identified as the cause of BRI and SBS symptoms.
Furthermore, while SBS and BRI can certainly magnify allergy and asthma issues, sick buildings can also cause similar symptoms in occupants who don’t usually suffer from allergy and asthma issues. In other words, while allergy triggers can contribute to SBS and BRI, the problem at hand is much greater.
Why are SBS and BRI a problem?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as many as one in four new or renovated buildings can be classified as “sick”. But aside from the vague reasoning that a lot of people aren’t feeling their best—why do we care?
Cost to Employers
Obviously no one enjoys feeling crummy. But the consequences of SBS and BRI reach far beyond individual health. SBS and BRI cost U.S. businesses millions of dollar every year due to employee absenteeism and decreased productivity. For buildings with long-term SBS and BRI issues, health care costs can even increase due to increased medical needs from employees.
Down in the dumps
If you are always feeling sick at work, you probably won’t feel very good about your job. Now consider that salaries make up approximately 85 percent of business costs for employers. If your most expensive and valuable “resources” are being weighed down by negativity, it will deplete motivation, morale and eventually the bottom line.
But those negative vibes aren’t just limited to the work place. Whether you’re a school, a hotel or a hospital, do you really want people to dread spending time in your building?
If you have questions or concerns about your facility, please contact one of our industrial hygienists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As president and chief executive officer, Dan focuses on the overall direction of the firm, strategic alliances, and business development, while upholding his commitment to clients to ensure their projects’ success. He remains involved in the field, applying his 30 years of experience to resolve the most complicated and high risk environmental hygiene issues encountered in healthcare facilities.