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Sick Building Syndrome: What is it and how to deal with it?

Almost everyone occasionally feels unwell because they are suffering from one or more common symptoms of discomfort such as headaches, dry throat or sore eyes. But there are occasions when, for no obvious reasons, people working in particular buildings may experience these sorts of symptoms more often than is usual. If these symptoms tend to increase in severity with time spent in the building and improve over time or disappear when away from the building, then this is could be associated with a phenomenon known as “Sick Building Syndrome”.

Sick Building Syndrome can be caused when bacteria and viruses are passes around work place properties often through the use of air conditioning or air management systems.




The main symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome are:

  • •  dry or itchy skin or skin rash
  • •  dry or itchy eyes, nose or throat
  • •  headaches or lethargy
  • •  irritability, or poor concentration
  • •  stuffy or runny nose

The symptoms are often mild and do not appear to cause any lasting damage. To those suffering, however, they are not trivial and can cause considerable distress. In severe cases, they can affect attitudes to work and may represent a significant cost to business in the form of reduced staff efficiency, increased absenteeism and staff turnover; extended breaks and reduced overtime.

It is important to remember that Sick Building Syndrome is not a recognised illness. It is simply a convenient term to describe a particular phenomenon and cannot be diagnosed precisely. It should not be confused with specific illnesses that can be directly associated with workplaces, such as humidifier fever, legionnaire’s disease, the effects of exposure to specific toxic substances in the workplace or to long-term cumulative hazards such as asbestos and radon. It does not cover discomfort from adverse physical conditions in the workplace such as excessive noise, heat or cold.


What to do about it


If you are a business owner and start getting complaints from your workforce about the symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome, or your supervisors warn of reduced efficiency and staff unease, it is important that you investigate promptly and systematically.

The problem may or may not be Sick Building Syndrome. Even if it is, there could be a number of unrelated causes requiring co-ordinated action across a variety of areas. A prompt response can help improve staff morale and make it easier to get at the real causes. However, a hasty and ill-considered response could involve you in a lot of wasted effort and money in making unnecessary changes.

Remember, your investigations will be most cost-effective if checks start with the most likely sources of the problem and you take the simplest actions to remedy faults as they emerge. More costly systems reviews and sophisticated remedial actions should only be considered if the simple approach does not work. You should discuss your approach with your staff or their representatives, for example the safety representative or the health and safety committee.

Click here for the Health and Safety Executive’s guide to Sick Building Syndrome

Where does Ventilation duct cleaning fit in?


Ventilation systems must be checked and cleaned on a regular basis to ensure that people/staff are breathing in good quality air. If not, their health may be at risk, which reduces efficiency and staff morale, illness may be caused by indoor air pollution.

Between them, over 65 UK branches of specialist commercial cleaning company, Rainbow International, provide a full ventilation duct cleaning service nationwide.  For more information on the legal requirements for ventilation duct cleaning and Rainbow International’s services click here or simply give us a call on our local number (type your postcode into our branch finder on this page to locate your local branch) or call the 24 Hour National Helpline 01623 422488.


Source:  http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg132.pdf

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