Is your office making you ill?

If you ever feel ill at work, but the symptoms disappear when you get home, you may be suffering from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

SBS occurs when people experience acute health and discomfort levels for the duration of their time in a particular building.

Dizziness, nausea, the irritation of your eyes, nose, skin, throat, coughing, infectious diseases, hypersensitivity reactions, allergies as well as sensitivity to certain odors and tastes, are all symptoms of SBS.

“Many are still unaware of this condition or believe that it does not exist,” says Graham Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of Profmed, “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 Anderson.

South Africa loses approximately R19 144 billion due to absenteeism annually, 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’s the cause?

The main cause of SBS is a lack of adequate ventilation. Air pollution can also cause SBS. This could be in the form of pollutants (car exhaust fumes, asbestos etc) 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 enquire how regularly the ventilation systems are serviced,” he says.

Anderson warns that buildings that have not 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.

7 ways to avoid SBS

Here are a few simple tips to help keep you healthy at work:

  • Open the windows. Open windows to allow fresh air into the building and help vacate potentially harmful materials or gasses.
  • Don’t eat at your desk.
  • Adopt a pot plant. Having a pot plant on your desk could help you relax and will help increase oxygen levels in the office.
  • Put on the lights or open the blinds. 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.

Make the necessary changes

Should you experience symptoms of SBS, you need to talk to your employer. “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.

Sources: All4Women, United States Environmental Protection Agency and The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)