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Is Your Workplace Making You Sick?

Students in eight Virginia Beach schools complained of stale air for years before air quality inspectors finally diagnosed the entire district with sick building syndrome (SBS). This condition has been identified in office workers, students, schoolteachers, government employees and others who spend time in a closed environment.

Symptoms of illness

People who suffer from SBS experience a range of symptoms that are uncomfortable and distracting, including:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Coughs
  • Dizziness, headaches and nausea
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulties with concentrating

These symptoms usually subside soon after they leave the building. It might be impossible to identify precisely what is causing the problem, as there are several possible sources.

Causes of sick building syndrome

While there are a number of irritants that are possibly to blame for these illnesses, the main issue is the lack of proper ventilation. Buildings are designed to make the most efficient use of heating and cooling systems — a large expense in the corporate workplace — and that involves limiting the introduction and circulation of fresh air. Among the likely irritants are mold, chemically treated construction materials, toxic substances used in office machinery and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as carpet adhesives, paint, pesticides and cleaning agents.

Asbestos and radon gas are implicated in this kind of illness as well, though these tend to be more long-term and more serious than simple SBS.

What can employers do about it?

Employers can help reduce SBS and increase workplace comfort and efficiency by improving ventilation. Workers who are suffering from SBS should be seated by open windows and allowed frequent outdoor breaks during the workday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a walk-through inspection of any building and can suggest improvements in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVACs).

Green buildings

Advances in engineering and ecological awareness have combined to create the next generation of building design: the green building. These buildings make efficient use of space, materials and ventilation systems without the presence of known irritants or air pollutants.

If you have symptoms of SBS, speak to our workplace injury attorney about your options. You might be eligible to receive money for medical bills and lost wages because of your illness.

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