Sick Building Syndrome

Throughout human civilization, humans have been determined to create indoor environments which get us out of the natural elements and protect us from sickness and other hazards. We have created buildings which do just this by creating building envelopes which mechanically, or less commonly naturally, take in outdoor air. Unfortunately through this practice, instead of the buildings getting us away from sickness, the buildings it seems may be causing sickness to their human occupants and lead to SBS.

The symptoms of SBS are all encompassing and range from a variety of issues from fatigue and rashes to acute respiratory illnesses (1). But these symptoms all have one thing in common; the cause of the symptom is unknown and the symptoms soon relieves after leaving the facility (Indoor Air Facts No. 4 (Revised) Sick Building Syndrome, 2008). Therefore, it becomes very hard to determine whether or not it is the actual building or other factors, such as management (psychosocial factors), which are causing people to feel sick.

This is largely due to the fact that these vague symptoms cannot be objectively measured and the ones being tested, such as; eyestrain, fatigue and eyestrain usually show no clinical signs of the symptoms. This means doctors are often judging these symptoms based on what the sufferer says they feel. Because of this, there is no actual clinical definition of SBS that is universally accepted and no sufficient theory for its occurrence (2). The following discussion will represent the ideas both supporting evidence that the physical aspects, such as indoor air quality (IAQ), of a facility can affect a persons potential for SBS type symptoms.

Likewise, there is no direct link that has been found to prove that management issues also cause SBS-like symptoms in an office type environment (Mendell, 1993). Without having a clear explanation of the cause, it is equally difficult to implement a clear method of resolving SBS-related symptoms. However, SBS-symptoms are a definite problem, whether it is due to physical space or management issues. It is estimated that 20-30% of all work environments cause seemingly healthy individuals to experience symptoms of physical distress in their work setting (Husman, 1994).