How important is adequate ventilation within the office environment?
When it comes to the matter of “sick building syndrome,” the very first element that comes under scrutiny is the HVAC system and the air quality in the building.
Let’s take a few steps back, however, and discover exactly what sick building syndrome (SBS) is, what causes it and the best-known fixes.
What is Sick Building Syndrome?
Sick building syndrome is the name given to an enclosed space such as a school or office block where the occupants suffer from common, yet unexplained ailments. SBS is a tricky problem to diagnose and can be traced back to any number of causes – each of them offering up a slightly different set of symptoms which vary from person to person.
Are you experiencing increased absenteeism in your organisation? Have your staff been complaining about flu-like symptoms? Are many of your staff members suffering from similar medical complaints?
Persistent illness within an office with staff experiencing similar yet non-specific ailments is a red flag for SBS, notably if these same symptoms disappear when the individuals are not in the affected environment.
These recurring symptoms can include any of the following:
- Tight chest or difficulty breathing (especially a problem for asthma sufferers)
- Runny nose
- Concentration issues
- Irritation of the throat or nose
- Chills or fever
- Excessive fatigue
It’s easy to see how many of these can be attributed to the common cold, or, in the case of irritability or fatigue – simply today’s office life.
And this is exactly why SBS flies under the radar and can affect everyone in an office, school, hotel or even hospital for years before people start looking for a culprit.
If these issues are hitting a little close to home, then the next question you’re probably going to ask is:
What Causes SBS?
The causes of SBS are many and varied. They can include:
- Poor or inadequate ventilation
- Pollution in the form of dust, smoke or carbon monoxide
- Hidden mould or fungus
- Cleaning products or pesticides
- Consistently dry or humid air
- Animal faeces
As you can imagine, it’s not always an easy feat to identify or rectify the causes.
The problem may be in the bones of the building, such as in the case of asbestos which will be a fairly large project to rectify. Alternatively, it may be a simple fix including more regular and thorough cleaning.
How to Fix Sick Building Syndrome
We all tell our children to go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine, and this basic premise is a great place to start in our mission to fix SBS in our workplace.
Many commercial buildings enjoy a central location, which also means lots of cars and buses. This necessitates a well-maintained air handling system which is fully functional and fit for purpose in order to keep the noxious traffic fumes out of the building.
A good HVAC system should:
- Have the capacity and functionality to perform optimally for the size and function of the building
- Be easy to service and maintain in order to keep the air quality at its highest level
- Be able to effectively filter and scrub the indoor air, right down to the smallest particles
- Maintain a healthy temperature and the correct humidity level for the space
- Be free of mould or standing water which could harbour bacteria
A safe, clean and fresh environment is an absolute necessity for a happy and healthy workforce.
A Good Cleaning Regime
A good cleaning routine within your environment will go a long way towards combatting SBS. This should include regular and thorough vacuuming to get rid of dust and insect or animal waste.
Make use of fragrance-free or low fume cleaning products. In fact, if you can get your hands on products made from natural, chemical-free compounds then that will certainly help.
Keep the kitchen clean! Regularly emptying the trash and keeping foodstuff packed away will reduce the risk of pests such as roaches and rodents. Their droppings alone can release harmful toxins into your environment.
Check For Chemicals
As mentioned, some older buildings may have asbestos, old lead paint or formaldehyde on old furniture which is leaching into your space. It may be an idea to ask a health and safety team to check for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in old paints, some carpeting and adhesives, and various types of furniture or upholstery.
The Solution Starts Here
If adequate ventilation is going to keep your team healthy, lower absenteeism, and facilitate a more productive staff complement, then you’re likely going to need a new HVAC system.
We’d like to encourage you to consider a solution from the AHI Carrier range of systems which are guaranteed to keep your environment clean, fresh and healthy.