Sick building syndrome is a condition recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The term describes a situation in which negative health effects are tied to time spent in a particular building. In most cases, there is no readily defined cause of the symptoms. Facility managers should differentiate this syndrome from a building-related illness – which has clearly defined causes, such as airborne contaminants.
The signs and symptoms of sick building syndrome
Unlike other ailments that tend to have a standard set of symptoms, sick building syndrome isn't necessarily one single illness. Therefore, it could present a number of different symptoms and may show up uniquely among individuals. When sick building syndrome presents as a respiratory ailment, some of the common symptoms tend to be watery eyes, congestion, rashes, sore throat and headaches.
According to the EPA, citing information from the World Health Organization, 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings may draw complaints about indoor air quality. But each case is unique, and some some buildings may only present a problem when used for purposes other than their intended design.
Possible causes of sick building syndrome
Sick building syndrome may stem from a single cause or multiple. The EPA reports that inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants and biological contaminants are the leading causes. For example, if an HVAC system does not ventilate a specific area of a building well, people who work there may experience discomfort while workers in better ventilated areas may appear completely healthy.
Chemical contaminants from within the building are another leading factor. This should be a concern for facilities that deal with toxic compounds. The same, however, can be said of office buildings – anything from furniture upholstery to cleaning products could cause workers and tenants to feel sick.
These contaminants may also originate from outside of the building. For instance, if a ventilation system pulls air from a busy parking lot or nearby factory, the pollutants could become embedded within the building over time.
Mold, pollen and bacteria are other common culprits. If sick building syndrome becomes a problem a certain times of the year, biological contaminants may be to blame. Mold, on the other hand, may be more difficult to detect. A leaky roof, for example, could cause mold to grow in hidden areas. It could take years before it manifests in easily noticeable locations.
The role of building maintenance
Because sick building syndrome has no a singular root cause, a holistic facility maintenance program is necessary to ensure all possibilities are addressed. Scheduled janitorial maintenance and cleaning could prevent mold and bacteria from accumulating. Likewise, a predictive maintenance for HVAC systems could keep filters in tip-top shape. Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation Magazine reported that high-volume low-speed (HVLS) fans can keep temperatures stable and improve air quality throughout the facility.
Preventing sick building syndrome should be a top priority for all facility managers. To learn how to improve the health of your workers and tenants, contact an established facility services provider such as Temco today.