Have you ever felt flu-like symptoms at work? Have you ever arrived home, only for those symptoms to disappear? If the answer is yes, you could be suffering from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SBS is used to describe a situation where employees or other building occupants experience acute health and discomfort levels for the duration of their time in a particular building.
Symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, the irritation of your eyes, nose, skin, throat, coughing, infectious diseases, hypersensitivity reactions, allergies as well as sensitivity to certain odours and tastes.
“Many are still unaware of this condition or believe that it doesn’t exist. When they start feeling sick at work, they seek medical help and take a couple of days off because they believe they are coming down with the flu. However, with SBS, the symptoms dissipate when you leave the building,” explains Graham Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of Profmed, a leading medical aid scheme exclusive for professionals.
On an annual basis, South Africa loses approximately R19,144 billion due to absenteeism, according to Human Capital Review. “If companies are able to eliminate SBS, there will likely be a dramatic drop in the number of sick days’ employees take and therefore, a decline in the amount of money the South African economy loses,” he warns.
What causes SBS?
The main cause of SBS is undoubtedly a lack of adequate ventilation. The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) adds that any contamination from both indoor and outdoor sources could also lead to SBS. This could be in the form of pollutants (car exhaust fumes, asbestos, and radon) and volatile organic compounds (cleaning agents, adhesives and tobacco smoke).
“This is why it is essential to have a properly operating ventilation system. Make sure to contact your building management to inquire how regularly the ventilation systems are serviced,” he says.
Anderson warns that buildings that haven’t been well maintained could also be a major contributor to SBS. “Offices with dark and drab paint schemes, in conjunction with confined working spaces, could also cause some employees to develop SBS,” he clarifies.
How to avoid SBS
There are many simple tips that can be used to ensure employees are in a healthy working environment including:
- Ensure there are windows open in your office
It is imperative that as many windows are opened to allow any potentially harmful materials or gasses to vacate the premises. This also ensure fresh air into the building.
- Don’t eat at your desk
Make sure to take frequent breaks away from your desk. Eat in the canteen if you have one, or go sit outside with your lunch.
- Adopt a pot plant
Having a pot plant on your desk or in the office could help you relax and increase oxygen levels.
- Put on the lights or open the blinds / curtains
Having to squint to read at your desk could strain your eyes. By increasing the lighting in the office you can help prevent mental fatigue.
- Eat healthily
You can help to boost your immune system by eating healthy fruit that will give you the necessary vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy.
- Choose eco-friendly cleaning materials
The fumes from various cleaning materials are hazardous to your health. Enquire with your cleaning staff which products they use. Do your own research on which products won’t be harmful to inhale.
- Wash your hands
As with protecting yourself against the flu, cleanliness is your ally. Make sure to clean your desk surface and to wash your hands on a regular basis.
It is imperative that employees communicate with their employers if they start experiencing similar symptoms.
“Employees need to provide employers with examples of why they believe they are experiencing SBS. The employer can then make the necessary changes. If you look at some of the new buildings being constructed, the majority of them have ample natural light and venues for employees to relax away from their desks,” concludes Anderson.