Many enemies are unseen. For many organizations, the primary cause for constant absenteeism, inefficiency, and productivity loss might not be the behavior of the employees but the building itself.
What Is Sick Building Syndrome?
The term “sick building syndrome” refers to a collection of symptoms that people working in a particular building develop when they live or work in the area. These symptoms appear soon after the person moves into a new space and disappear when they leave the location for a while.
Another phrase used to describe sick building syndrome is “building-related illness.” The symptoms can include:
- Dry, itchy eyes
- Respiratory, cardiovascular, or neurological problems
- Sinus congestion
- Asthma attacks
- Memory loss
Causes of Sick Building Syndrome
There is no known cause, and some experts do not consider it an official diagnosis or illness. However, many believe that a combination of factors could be contributing to the symptoms mentioned above:
- Contaminants in indoor air due to poor indoor air quality, such as mold, fungus, bacteria, and chemical pollutants, have been believed to contribute to symptoms of SBS.
- The rate of flicker, or strobelike effect, in artificial lighting has been identified as a factor because it can cause headaches and eyestrain.
- Noise pollution includes low-frequency soundwaves, which travel long distances, and high-frequency sounds produced by fans, motors, air conditioners, and photocopiers. These can lead to a lack of concentration and irritability.
- High or low room temperatures, drafts, and airflow have been identified as factors that can induce SBS symptoms such as fatigue and discomfort.
- Unresolved stress can also be a factor that causes the symptoms of sick building syndrome. Poor building design, such as cramped spaces and lack of color, also contribute to the illness. One possible explanation is the ease by which a sick person can spread pathogens.
- Chemical contamination can refer to inadequate ventilation that would allow toxic chemicals used in everyday activities such as cleaning, printing, painting, and the use of office equipment to build up in the air.
The Effects of Sick Building Syndrome
Even if it is not an official diagnosis, sick building syndrome still profoundly impacts an organization. First, it can be extremely costly. It increases the rate of absenteeism, which experts call the bottom-line killer. Businesses could lose as much as $3,600 annually for every hourly worker with an unscheduled absence.
Absenteeism then leads to a loss of productivity. In a study by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), the US economy loses a staggering $575 billion and over 1 billion days of productivity loss due to health-related illnesses or poor worker health.
Employees, meanwhile, could find themselves spending more money on healthcare-related expenses that they could easily max out their insurance coverage or, worse, make them less qualified for better insurance with lower premiums.
Some lawyers also revealed that severe symptoms could be grounds for a civil lawsuit or a workers’ compensation settlement, reaching thousands to millions of dollars.
How to Prevent Sick Building Syndrome
Fortunately, businesses can consider many steps to improve their work environment and prevent sick building syndrome. It begins with maintaining cleanliness in the office.
Businesses can hire an in-house cleaning team, although they will benefit more from an outsourced commercial cleaning service. Outsourced service providers can provide a more comprehensive cleaning. They also have experts who are familiar with the best practices in facility maintenance and management.
They can also specialize in many areas of hygiene, such as floor stripping, waxing and polishing, carpet cleaning, odor removal, tile and grout cleaning and sealing, window washing, parking lot sweeping, post-construction cleaning, and water damage restoration.
Improving ventilation is another essential step. Employees should avoid smoking in indoor areas because secondhand smoke spreads colds, flu, and other common respiratory problems. It also weakens the lungs, making them less capable of fighting these types of infections.
Offices should also use only the required amount of air fresheners or perfumes to prevent allergies and asthma attacks from mistreated or undiluted chemicals.
Other strategies include:
- Keeping HR managers up-to-date about new policies that could help employees improve the indoor environment, such as telecommuting or flexible work schedules
- Avoiding heavy meals by offering healthy snacks during meetings instead of ordering food deliveries
- Using natural lighting, which has been known to boost workplace morale and productivity
- Keeping designated smoking areas separate from work areas
- Providing ergonomic chairs and other furniture, which could help reduce the risk of back injuries due to prolonged sitting
- Reducing employee stress by offering free massages, meditation sessions, or yoga classes
- Considering a hybrid workplace, where employees can either work on-site or telecommute
- Regularly testing the area for volatile organic compounds, radon, carbon monoxide, and mold
- Providing safety equipment such as safety goggles, earplugs, and dust masks to prevent injuries
Sick building syndrome affects everyone in an organization, whether they get sick or not. Unfortunately, it takes a couple of days to get over the symptoms. This means that employees cannot work properly and businesses lose money because of their absence.
To avoid these problems, organizations need to follow preventive measures such as using only the necessary air fresheners or introducing ergonomic chairs and furniture. They should also choose a commercial cleaning service that specializes in various areas of hygiene to maintain cleanliness in the workplace.