Flu season is a yearly occurrence that, despite best efforts, can’t be avoided. But outside of flu sea-
son, your building might be to blame
for occupants feeling under the weath-
er, and it’s hurting your bottom line.
Is your facility making building occu-
Sick Building Syndrome
If it always seems like people in
your workplace are getting sick, the
work environment might be to blame.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) occurs
when employees experience a number
of symptoms and irritations that get
better when they are away from work.
■ Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
■ Mental fatigue
■ Skin irritation
“These symptoms can have multiple
causes, thus, they do not indicate a
specific type of disease or specific type
of pollutant exposure,” notes Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory.
“Some occupants in every office build-
ing will report some SBS symptoms, but
indoor environmental factors that are
known or suspected to lead to increased
SBS symptoms include a lower ventila-
tion rate (throughout the normal ventila-
tion rate range encountered in buildings),
strong indoor pollutant sources, air condi-
tioning and higher indoor temperatures.”
SBS is typically caused by pollutants
from both indoor and outdoor sources,
as well as other biological contaminants
like molds. If you can carefully regulate
ventilation, source control and temperature, you can avoid the drop off in productivity that comes with SBS.
and Source Control
One of the simplest ways to prevent
SBS in your facility is to increase ventilation. It can be a delicate balance to
improve IAQ while keeping energy costs
at bay, but doing so will improve how
building occupants feel throughout the
If you’re unsure whether your ventilation rates are high enough, ASHRAE 62.1
specifies minimum ventilation rates that
are optimal for IAQ. By referring to the
individual codes and standards, you can
apply them to your building with other
best ventilation practices.
Berkeley Lab identifies six practices
every building should adopt for ventila-
1) Maintain building ventilation rates
at or above the minimum rates specified
in current codes and standards.
2) Utilize local exhaust ventilation
at sources of indoor air pollutants and
3) Increase ventilation rates during
and after painting, cleaning, waxing
floors or any other pollutant generating
4) Locate outdoor air intakes of ven-
tilation systems away from sources of
5) In hot, humid climates, use dehu-
midification systems to reduce indoor
humidity during peak and off-peak ther-
mal load conditions.
6) Reduce the sources of indoor pol-
lutants to diminish the amount of venti-
lation needed to maintain low pollutant
If you can move more clean air
Additionally, using interior products
throughout your building while simulta-
neously preventing biological growth via
moisture, the likelihood of SBS in your
facility is significantly lower.
(furniture, flooring, cleaning supplies,
etc.) that are pollutant-free will further
reduce this risk.
The best thing you can do to stop SBS
from reducing productivity is to make
sure building occupants can communi-
cate any IAQ issues.
Some SBS issues might be localized,
so you might not be aware that there’s
a problem. Thus, creating an open channel to draw attention to issues is critical.
OSHA identifies the following questions
for employees to consider when it comes
to IAQ and health:
■ Do you have symptoms that only occur
at work and go away when you get
home? What are these symptoms?
■ Are these symptoms related to a
certain time of day, season or location
■ Did the symptoms start when
something new happened at work,
such as renovation or construction
■ Are there other people at work with
■ Did you already see a doctor for your
symptoms, and if so, did the doctor
diagnose an illness related to IAQ?
Additionally, the Environmental
Protection Agency provides a sample
form for IAQ complaints. If you employ
this kind of communication in the workplace, the exact format isn’t all that
important as long as employees can
effectively communicate any problems
they are facing.
If workers aren’t voicing any concerns,
look for patterns. When employees in
the same area frequently exhibit similar
symptoms, it might be an HVAC issue in
that specific location.
Associate Editor of BUILDINGS.
Don’t Let Sick Building Syndrome Reduce Productivity
FLAWS IN HVAC SYSTEMS CAN HAMPER THE HEALTH OF BUILDING OCCUPANTS
PROPER VENTILATION is key to
eliminating Sick Building Syndrome and
other IAQ issues.