Impacts Sick building syndrome (SBS)

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is poorly understood phenomenons where people in particular work environments have a range of non-specific, building-related symptoms.

SBS Symptoms
The symptoms of SBS may include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • aches and pains
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • loss of concentration
  • shortness of breath
  • sensitivity to odours
  • eye, nose and throat irritation
  • skin irritation (skin rashes, dry itchy skin)

The symptoms of SBS can appear on their own or in combination with each other. They usually improve or disappear altogether after leaving the building.

Who is affected by SBS?
Anyone can be affected by SBS, but office workers are most at risk. This is because people who work in offices do not usually have control over their working environment. They are often employed in routine work that involves using display screen equipment.

Women appear to be more likely to develop the symptoms of SBS than men. However, this may be due to more women being employed in offices rather than a higher susceptibility.

SBS Environments
SBS seems to be associated with certain types of buildings. Most cases of SBS occur in open-plan offices, although people sometimes develop the symptoms while in other buildings that are occupied by lots of people, such as:

  • schools
  • libraries
  • museums

SBS is more likely to occur in buildings with air-conditioning and automated heating and ventilation systems that circulate air around the building.

Risk Factors
Experts believe that SBS may be the result of a combination of different factors.

Possible risk factors for SBS may include:

  • poor ventilation
  • low humidity
  • high temperature or changes in temperature throughout the day
  • airborne pollutants, such as dust, carpet fibres or fungal spores
  • chemical pollutants, such as cleaning materials
  • poor standards of cleanliness in the working environment
  • poor lighting that causes glare or flicker on visual display units (VDUs)
  • ozone produced by photocopiers and printers
  • working with display screen equipment for prolonged periods of time
  • psychological factors,such as stress or poor staff morale
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