SBS arose out of the energy crisis in the early 70’s, whereby the cost of regulating outside air temperature via HVAC systems began to escalate, resulting in an increase to the degree by which buildings were sealed from the outside atmosphere.
By 1984, the World Health Organisation reported 30% of buildings worldwide were linked to symptoms of SBS.
By many current reports, SBS remains prevalent throughout the western workforce. A study into a large UK government office of 2500 employees estimated the impact on productivity through sickness to be worth £400 000 per year.
Other Australian studies have shown strong links between internal air quality and rates of absenteeism.
Although direct measurements on productivity can be difficult, one study specifically reported improvement in cognitive tasks when outside ventilation rate was increased by 20% or more.
Essentially, SBS is a non-specific syndrome linked to poor inside environment. It is generally consistent with an increase in ambient concentration of gasses other than oxygen. Halogens, ketones, esters, alcohols, phenols, aldehydes and epoxides are given off continuously by people, clothing, furnishings and processes.
In poorly ventilated buildings and houses, the occupants are dwelling in a biochemical soup!
The heightened concentration of air contaminants, along with other contributing factors such as work demands, employee interest, lighting, noise and ergonomic factors are significant players in SBS. The effects of these factors are commonly noted in the darker months where a spike in one area pushes the sensitivity in others into critical mass.
There are many sceptics to the notion of SBS due to it’s non-specific nature. It does however illustrate an important point that ties in with notes on Seasonal Affective Disorder, namely, that humans were not built for hibernation; and that when we go down that path, our mental state and physical capacity are compromised.
The simple moral is that you may be more productive during Winter with a jumper on and a window open than you would be in a well-regulated environment!
It may also pay to review the systems that supply your internal air, that clean your home or office, and that operate your business to maintain employee satisfaction. The traits of Winter can simply be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.
Safework SA has more information on physical symptoms and causes of Sick Building Syndrome. It’s worth a look if you’re finding the hibernation season challenging to the health of your home or business.