We’ve all experienced those inter-office bugs that travel through buildings during cold and flu season, but sick building syndrome (or SBS) is another matter entirely. If your building has SBS, employees--even the hardworking ones--will inexplicably come down with cold-like symptoms that go away once they leave the building.
The term “sick building syndrome” is used to describe “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building” (EPA). SBS can decrease the health and happiness of your employees, increase absences, and reduce overall productivity. We’ll go over how to recognize the signs and symptoms of SBS, as well as the steps you can take to prevent it.
Key Indicators of Sick Building Syndrome
Your facility may have sick building syndrome if these indicators are present:
Building occupants complain of symptoms such as: headaches; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness; nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.
Most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building.
The cause of the symptoms is unknown.
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
Research has shown that poor indoor air quality is the leading cause of SBS. The air quality of your building can be compromised by a number of factors.
Poorly Installed and/or Poorly Maintained HVAC Equipment
Poor indoor air quality can occur if your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is not distributing air properly. In some cases, your HVAC system might not be adequate to meet the needs of your facility. In other cases, the system might be lacking proper maintenance.
These pollutants that affect your building’s indoor air quality can include both indoor and outdoor sources. Some examples include cleaning agents, pesticides, tobacco smoke, gas stoves, and vehicle exhaust. Outdoor sources are particularly dangerous if you have poorly located vents.
Biological toxins include things such as bacteria, mold, pollen, and other viruses. Many times stagnant water accumulates and allows biological toxins to accumulate in air ducts, humidifiers, carpeting, or the ceiling. These toxins can also come from pest droppings and dander.
It’s helpful to work with your employees to get to the source of the problem. If you notice patterns with employees who work in the same area or if you notice similar symptoms, you can better eliminate risk factors.
How to Prevent Sick Building Syndrome
Schedule HVAC Maintenance
Since the main cause of SBS is poor indoor air quality, a smart way to prevent it is by scheduling routine HVAC maintenance. Something as simple as changing air filters can greatly impact air quality.
Comprehensive inspections with commercial HVAC contractors often include reviewing areas such as:
heating and cooling coils;
drain and condensate lines;
fans, motors, and belts;
burners in boiler systems;
duct seals and gaskets;
and safety controls.
Locate and Clean Up Wet Areas
If you suspect that mold is the culprit behind the poor air quality in your building, try to find any sources of leaks and repair them. If you’ve noticed a water-stained ceiling tile or hear a dripping pipe, that may be where the mold is growing. It’s important to get professional help to remove the mold because it can often be difficult to find and even harder to eliminate.
Use Cleaning Products with Low Fumes and No Fragrances
Many cleaning agents emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may be negatively affecting the short-term health and long-term health of your building’s occupants. Finding safer products with a low VOC count could be a simple trick to curing SBS.
Update Your Cleaning Schedule
If you’re not regularly vacuuming or disinfecting, dust will accumulate and affect your building’s indoor air quality. Stay on top of keeping all surface areas dust-free and clean.
HVAC maintenance, mold remediation, frequent cleaning, and safer cleaning products can all help to prevent SBS and improve the indoor air quality in your building.
We understand that you want to keep your employees and other building occupants protected, healthy, and happy. Let us assist you today. Here at Del-Air Mechanical, we have more than 35 years of industry-leading experience helping businesses in Knoxville with their HVAC and plumbing needs. Contact us online or give us a call at (865) 205-9929.