Preventing Sick Building Syndrome Or SBS In Office Building
In this modern era, we often spend most of our time indoors, be it in our offices, homes, or other public places. However, did you know that the environment inside buildings can have a significant impact on our health and well-being? One phenomenon that arises due to environmental conditions in buildings is known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
Sick Building Syndrome is a condition in which occupants or workers in a building experience unpleasant or even potentially harmful health symptoms, which can be attributed to the time spent in a particular building.
Occupational medicine in 1980 introduced the concept of SBS as a health problem due to the work environment related to air pollution, indoor air quality (IAQ) and poor ventilation of office buildings.
In 1984 WHO reported that more than 30% of new buildings around the world may be the subject of complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ), whereas according to research conducted by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) In the US in 1997, as many (52%) of respiratory diseases came from a lack of ventilation in buildings and poor building Air Conditioning (AC) performance which was related to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
Sick Building Syndrome is known by other names such as Sealed Building Syndrome and Tight Building Syndrome, while in Indonesian it has been translated as Sindroma Gedung Sakit. It is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a situation in which building occupants experience acute symptoms and effects of discomfort related to the length of time spent in the building, but no illness or specific cause can be identified. These complaints can be localized in a particular room or zone, or respiratory problems in the workplace and usually the complaints will disappear when leaving the building. These symptoms are declared as sick building syndrome if these symptoms are experienced by at least 20% of the workers in the building.
Symptoms and Complaints of Sick Building Syndrome
Symptoms that are often felt by the occupants of the "sick building syndrome" building are headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye irritation, nose irritation or throat irritation, dry cough, dry skin, itching, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sensitivity to odors, hoarseness, allergies, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks and personality changes. Although the cause of the symptoms is unknown, they can reduce work efficiency and increase absenteeism which is commonly associated with respiratory complaints. These symptoms can get worse the longer a person is in the building where most of these symptoms will disappear after leaving the building.
The causes of Sick Building Syndrome and Complaints experienced:
- Headache symptoms that appear in a room can be caused by noise, office illumination, use of display layers, volatile organic compounds, stress levels and monotonous work.
- Symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion that appear due to dust pollutants, biological pollutants, volatile organic compounds, dirty ventilation systems, negligence in carrying out maintenance actions.
Symptoms of eye, nose and throat irritation are caused by CO, NO2 and SO2 gases produced from:
- Faulty or malfunctioning heating equipment. Use of printers, scanners, fax machines and photocopiers that can produce ozone
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which can occur in many substances including perfumes, carpets and human breath. VOCs are all components of organic chemicals that can evaporate and pollute the air.
- The poor condition of air reaching the mucous membranes detected by human receptors causing irritation to the eyes, nose and throat
- Biological contaminants, namely bacteria, mold, pollen and viruses that can multiply in stagnant water that collects in pipes, AC water tanks, or places where water collects such as on ceilings (leaks), carpets, or insulation ).
- Symptoms of coughing and hoarseness can be caused by biological contaminants (microorganisms), such as bacteria, mold, pollen and viruses. Mold and bacteria are usually found growing in the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system which indicates that the HVAC system is damp and cleaning is not done regularly.
- Symptoms of dizzy eyes occur when a person uses his eyes to fully accommodate or concentrate for a long time. This symptom is related to the use of display screen equipment (in this case a computer) which requires one's eyes to receive emitted radiation and the lack of light levels in the work space. Symptoms of dizzy eyes if left for a long time will affect other limbs, especially the head, so that the person will complain of symptoms of headaches.
- Symptoms of itching and red spots on the skin can be caused by dust that surrounds workers in the office space and biological pollutants, namely bacteria brought in by workers from outside such as Staphylococcus and Micrococcus that are on human skin, as well as Streptococcus species that are exhaled from the nose/ pharynx when someone is talking. Dust in the workspace comes from dust that accumulates in carpets, air conditioning (AC) holes, and open surfaces that can be filled with dust, such as shelves, cupboards and office desks.
Symptoms of nausea occur due to various factors as follows:
- Long term noise.
- Inadequate ventilation so that a person does not get enough oxygen to breathe normally.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are found in new carpets and new office equipment such as cabinets, tables, chairs. VOCs can be detected by the odors emitted from the new equipment.
Sick Building Syndrome Prevention Efforts
- Elimination and substitution are the most effective efforts to overcome indoor air quality (IAQ) problems. Examples are routine maintenance of air conditioning systems, cleaning or storing biological contaminants, eliminating the use of carpets or routine cleaning of carpets, making an appeal to stop smoking.
- Store paints, adhesives, solvents or other hazardous and toxic materials and materials with strong odors in a well-ventilated area.
- Allow sufficient time for newly constructed or renovated buildings to remove odor and dust sources prior to occupancy.
- Increase ventilation rate and air distribution. In certain rooms such as bathrooms, copy rooms, printing rooms, it is highly recommended to use an exhaust to remove indoor pollutants.
- Avoid turning on the air conditioner continuously, the air conditioner needs to be turned off so that germs don't breed in damp places. When the air conditioner is turned off, the window needs to be opened wide so that sunlight enters the room, because the sun's heat can kill some germs.
- Office equipment that causes air pollution, such as copiers and printers, is placed in a separate room.
Workers at Risk for Sick Building Syndrome
Building occupants who are at risk of getting sick building syndrome are workers who are in buildings with closed structures, very limited natural ventilation and use mechanical ventilation or air conditioning systems without opening windows, while the highest risk is in workers who routinely use display screen equipment such as computers, laptops, tablets, etc.
The use of Air Conditioning plays a very important role as a tool to regulate the air temperature in the room which provides comfort when working. According to the Quality Standards according to Minister of Health Decree No. 261, the temperature that is considered comfortable for a working environment is 18°C – 26°C. The use of an air conditioner that mixes with outside air can cause air exchange to occur naturally and can reduce the risk of SBS, compared to a room where the air temperature is fully regulated by the air conditioner.
One of the causes of Sick Building Syndrome is biological contaminants (microorganisms), such as bacteria, mold, pollen and viruses. Some microorganisms are even found in high concentrations in the cooling coils of air conditioning (AC) systems, filters and humidifiers in the air supply ducts of air conditioning (AC) systems. So if the HVAC system in a building is not cleaned and maintained in the right way, it will cause a hazard to the health of the occupants of the building in the room.
Gelair Air Treatment prevents Sick Building Syndrome by improving indoor air quality through the HVAC system. Gelair was established at a Tea Tree plantation in northern New South Wales in 1998. Gelair Air Treatment uses Tea Tree Essential Oil as a natural antiseptic to combat and prevent various types of mold, bacteria, viruses, proven effective in controlling Golden Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) for strains resistant to Methicillin (MRSA) and Vancomycin (VRSA).
Check the following topic links for applications using Gelair on HVAC systems.
Improve Your Indoor Air Quality with Gelair Air Treatment.