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How Can Planning Prevent Sick Building Syndrome?

How Can Planning Prevent Sick Building Syndrome?

Many of the factors associated with Sick Building Syndrome relate to building and building services design. In many cases it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to change things when building and installation work have been completed. In some cases alterations may be possible but would be prohibitively expensive to carry out.

The prevention of Sick Building Syndrome, therefore, needs to be tackled at an early stage during the planning of new building work, refurbishment or change of use.

Two broad objectives to aim for in planning are:

  • to comply with published standards (including the Building Regulations 1991(11) and those detailed in the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Guides(13)); and
  • to direct effort cost-effectively towards the best possible working environment.

These aims need to be applied systematically in the following areas:

Building services and indoor environment

  • Air quality, including ventilation, outdoor air supply and air movement
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Office equipment and furnishings


  • Maintenance of the building and building services systems
  • Cleaning operations, including office furnishings

Job factors

  • Management systems
  • Work organisation, including display screen equipment work

Part 2 (discussed in the next article) gives more detailed guidance on the approach to take and various specific actions that may be appropriate. It also includes, where relevant, suggestions about the standards to meet.

But good planning is not enough. To protect the effectiveness of the design effort, it is vital to implement the plans rigorously. Construction, renovation, installation of equipment and services, and final commissioning of the building should all follow the design as precisely as possible. Any changes to the original plan need to be checked to ensure the building as a whole will still perform as intended. In particular, materials should only be substituted when the consequences for the emission of pollutants have been assessed.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Sick Building Syndrome?

If you start getting complaints from your workforce about the symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome, or your supervisors warm of reduced efficiency and staff unease, it is important that you investigate promptly and systematically. The problem may or may not be Sick Building Syndrome. Even if it is, there could be a number of unrelated causes requiring co-ordinated action across a variety of areas. A prompt response can help improve staff morale and make it easier to get at the real causes. However, a hasty and ill-considered response could involve you in a lot of wasted effort and money in making unnecessary changes.

Remember, your investigations will be most cost-effective if checks start with the most likely sources of the problem and you take the simplest actions to remedy faults as they emerge. More costly systems reviews and sophisticated remedial actions should only be considered if the simple approach does not work. You should discuss your approach with your staff or their representatives, for example the safety representative or the health and safety committee ... more next time.

Content extracted from the HSE document “How to deal with sick building syndrome”, and is reproduced in accordance with Accepta’s agreement with and courtesy of the United Kingdom’s Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

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