sick building syndrome

What is Sick Building Syndrome? 

If your building occupants complain of acute symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat, a dry cough, itchiness, fatigue, cold-like symptoms and aggravation of asthma that goes away when they change environments, your facility may have a case of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). 

Typically caused by inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants, and biological contaminants found in your HVAC system, sick building syndrome cost companies millions in employee absenteeism, decreased productivity, and increased healthcare premiums annually. 

Implementing a sick building syndrome prevention plan into your building, facility, or business can safeguard the health of your employees, clients, and visitors. Read on to learn more about sick building syndrome and how you can prevent it from occurring in your facility.

Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Poor ventilation, dust, tobacco smoke, mold, formaldehyde, asbestos, air pollution from cleaning products, pesticides, carbon monoxide, heat, and low humidity are all possible causes of sick building syndrome conditions. 

Many older buildings contain contaminants like asbestos, while newer buildings may contain manufactured wood products that contain higher levels of formaldehyde, which has been recognized as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Improper HVAC maintenance can lead to poor ventilation and a buildup of mold, fungi, and dust on HVAC coils, which can be spread through a building’s ductwork.

Additionally, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, pesticides, and even ozone let off by laser printers and photocopiers can adversely affect the lung health of occupants. 

Even lighting conditions can play a role in sick building syndrome, as poor lighting and a lack of natural lighting can quickly lead to fatigue and other general malaise.

How Is Sick Building Syndrome Similar to Building-Related Illness?

Although sick building syndrome is identified on a case-by-case basis, building-related illnesses are a collection of diseases with direct, concrete causal links to specific indoor conditions. Generally, sick building syndrome consists of a group of nonspecific symptoms that do not ultimately lead to a diagnosis, while building-related illnesses are particular conditions such as Legionnaire’s Disease, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergies, and rashes. It is essential to note the contrast between sick building syndrome and building-related illnesses, as BRI’s typically have more substantial medical effects and can be attributed directly to indoor air conditions surrounding the individual.

How Does Indoor Air Quality Affect Worker Performance?

Poor IAQ can make your employees more susceptible to adverse health effects that may increase the amount of sick leave they take during the year. Many studies surrounding the tangible effects of sick building syndrome conditions on absenteeism pin annual global financial losses resulting from indoor air quality and SBS to the tune of hundreds of millions, if not reaching into the scope of billions of dollars lost as a result of absenteeism.

In addition to absenteeism, poor IAQ can negatively affect employee mood, cognitive function, and productivity. Aside from physical effects, it can also lead to mood swings, fatigue, and depression. Workers who believe their leaders do not care about their health and well-being may also be less motivated to perform at their best. 

Sick Building Syndrome Prevention

You can ensure that your facility remains safe while operating at peak efficiency by performing regular HVAC and air duct maintenance. Upgraded air filtration, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, and natural ventilation are all critical factors in preventing sick building syndrome from happening in your facility.

Have another question about Indoor Air Quality? Contact us today at 866-470-0827 or email your question to!