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There’s a Problem Building!

Step into the office and feel sick? It’s not just your imagination

HeadacheIf you start sneezing and wheezing the moment you get to work, you might suspect you are “allergic to work”. Actually, that wouldn’t be too far off the mark – but it might be your building that’s really causing your discomfort. This is known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

SBS is a transient symptom that is relieved upon leaving the building premises. In other words, when a person enters a “sick building”, he/she starts to develop a symptom, but when he/she leaves the building, the symptom disappears.

What causes SBS?

SBS is caused by poor indoor air quality (IAQ) such as too high or low air temperature or relative humidity, inadequate fresh air, low air movement, and the existence of harmful contaminants in the air, among other things.


What are the common symptoms?

The common symptoms are:

  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Blocked nose
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Dry throat
  • Dry skin
  • Eye/nose/throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Chest tightness


Are there long-term health effects?

Although SBS is characterised by the relief of symptoms when the affected person leaves the building, there can be long-term health effects to occupants in some cases, particularly sensitive individuals. There is evidence of people developing long-lasting symptoms after working or living in a sick building for many years.


How can SBS be prevented?

There are two ways to prevent SBS. The more effective approach is to adopt the preventive approach. Firstly, a building must be designed properly to provide good quality air to its spaces. For example, use construction materials which do not emit harmful contaminants, such as untreated wood and low-emission paint. Secondly, a building and its facilities must be operated and maintained properly and IAQ audits should be carried out periodically to ensure continuing good IAQ in the premises.


The other approach is the reactive approach. This involves diluting or removing harmful contaminants from the air using the method of filtration, such as with the use of air purifiers, air ionisation, ultra-violet irradiation and ventilation, etc.


In a box

Clear the Air!

What should you keep in mind when picking an air purifier? Look out for these four aspects:

·         Does it have a HEPA filter? – This filters small, harmful particles in the air.
·         Does it have an activated carbon filter? – This removes gases such as benzene, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
·         Does it have natural filtration and is it 100% ozone-free? – The air purifier should not use harsh chemicals or emit ozone which is harmful to health and the environment.
·         Does it effective coverage area? – The air purifier should efficiently clean the total area of a specific room.


Cheng Ming Chin is the Senior Lecturer and Section Head of the Diploma in Green Building & Sustainability, Temasek Polytechnic (TP).
Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 31 2015. Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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