This document is part of a series that explains what Sick Building Syndrome is and what we know about the symptoms and the possible causes.
This first part looks at what Sick Building Syndrome actually is, what causes it and who can be affected. The advice is aimed primarily at employers, building owners and building managers; but building designers, planners, architects, engineers, furnishers and suppliers may also find it useful.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Almost everyone occasionally feels unwell because they are suffering from one or more common symptoms of discomfort such as headaches, dry throat or sore eyes. But there are occasions when, for no obvious reasons, people working in particular buildings experience these sorts of symptoms more often than is usual. The symptoms tend to increase in severity with time spent in the building and improve over time or disappear away from the building. This is often described as Sick Building Syndrome.
The main symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome are:
- dry or itchy skin or skin rash;
- dry or itchy eyes, nose or throat;
- headaches, lethargy, irritability, or poor concentration.
- stuffy or runny nose;
The symptoms are often mild and do not appear to cause any lasting damage. To those suffering, however, they are not trivial and can cause considerable distress. In severe cases, they can affect attitudes to work and may represent a significant cost to business in the form of:
- reduced staff efficiency;
- increased absenteeism and staff turnover;
- extended breaks and reduced overtime;
- lost time complaining and dealing with complaints.
Is it an Illness?
Sick Building Syndrome is not a recognised illness. It is simply a convenient term to describe a particular phenomenon and cannot be diagnosed precisely. It should not be confused with specific illnesses that can be directly associated with workplaces, such as humidifier fever, legionnaire’s disease, the effects of exposure to specific toxic substances in the workplace or to long-term cumulative hazards such as asbestos and radon. It does not cover discomfort from adverse physical conditions in the workplace such as excessive noise, heat or cold.
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.