Sbs Sick Building Syndrome

Are you aware of VOC related health issues within your work environment?

Whilst many VOCs have no adverse effects on health and the environment, some are harmful. Long-term exposure to low concentrations may cause damage to liver, kidneys and even result in cancer.

Sources of VOC include building materials, furniture, carpets, heating and cooking systems, stored solvents and cleaning products. These will be present in both domestic and industrial settings.

In medium and heavy industries, there are more sources of VOCs and higher concentrations can also exist. Here, VOCs pose additional threats. VOC vapours are heavier than air and may displace oxygen in confined spaces posing an asphyxiation risk to workers.

Air pollution is now something we are all aware of and is often included alongside UV levels on weather forecasts. VOCs are themselves directly an air pollutant but also have secondary effects. When sunlight and heat react with VOCs, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (gasses released from many industrial process and vehicles) ozone is generated and smog is formed.

Poor air quality and ventilation are key contributing factors to SBS Sick building syndrome, an illness diagnosed by a collection of acute symptoms whilst in a particular environment.

Possible SBS Sick building syndrome symptoms according to the NHS include:

  • Headaches
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Dry itchy skin
  • Dry and sore eyes
  • Rashes
  • Tiredness and difficulty concentrating
All of the above symptoms result in lower productivity but symptom can vary considerably from person to person. Some may experience multiple symptoms, others may have none at all. What is certain is whether someone has symptoms or not, long term ingestion is harmful.

Symptoms of SBS progress far higher the longer you’re in a particular building and eventually improve after you leave.

In addition to measures now being taken by building developers to use more materials with lower and safer VOC levels, good ventilation is the key to overcoming many of these acute and/or chronic effects.

The UK National Health Service is just one body highlighting the issues with SBS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sick-building-syndrome/