Could Your Workplace Be Making You Sick?

As we spend so much time inside our offices, it is important that they offer a safe and healthy environment. However, sick building syndrome is a real concern.

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Poor Indoor Air

Employees may breathe in carbon monoxide or cigarette smoke through the ventilation system. Fax machines, printers, cleaning products, pesticides and building works may all contaminate the air.

Ventilation systems are recommended to pump 20 cubic feet of pure air in each minute for each person in the office. However, many employees only receive five cubic feet of fresh air, and some have sealed windows. Given the long hours we work, this is comparable to a long-distance flight with poor air quality.

Illnesses that result include nausea, headaches, irritability, dizziness, itchy eyes and respiratory disorders.

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Building-Related Diseases

Building-related diseases can be traced to a specific cause, such as colds, allergies and asthma caused by mould or dust. Other culprits may be humidifiers which are contaminated with microbes or carbon monoxide in the air duct system.

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See the NHS advice on the subject here:

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome is a constellation of features usually including headache, fatigue, itchy skin and irritated mucous membranes in the nose, eyes and throat. Symptoms tend to disappear once the person leaves the building – unlike building-related diseases.

Lowering of ventilation standards in the 1970s has been blamed by some researchers; others believe minute quantities of chemicals in carpets, paint, photocopiers and office supplies are at fault.

Yet more experts say simple problems with humidity, heat and light are causing the epidemic.

Employers need to address problems at once, given the potential costs to the company. Often better ventilation can ameliorate the situation.

Here are some tips for employees:

– Don’t block grilles or air vents.
– Smoke outside, away from air intake ducts.
– Look after office plants, which contribute to air quality.
– Throw away rubbish promptly.
– Use the refrigerator for perishable food and clean it often to prevent odours and mould.
– Clean eating areas to avoid pests (cockroaches are linked with respiratory problems).

If you have health problems that may be due to your environment, document your condition and ask your HR representative to investigate the problem.