You know the symptoms. You cough, you sneeze, your eyes water, you sometimes feel dizzy, your chest feels tight and your muscles ache every time you go to work. You may have attributed these symptoms to your allergies or even to your heavy workload and the stress it causes you, but have you ever considered that your work area, or the building itself, may be sick?
Per the Environmental Protection Agency, buildings can indeed be “sick.” There is even a name for your symptoms: sick building syndrome. This term describes situations in which a building’s occupants experience acute health and/or comfort effects caused by the building itself, usually with regard to its indoor air quality. If your symptoms lessen or disappear once you leave your workplace or shortly thereafter, you may be suffering from sick building syndrome.
As far back as 1984, a World Health Organization committee reported that occupants of up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings regularly complain of negative health symptoms resulting from their building’s indoor air quality. While this problem often can be solved by identifying and correcting its causes, some buildings remain sick forever, especially if they were improperly designed in the first place.
The four main reasons why buildings are or become sick are the following:
- Inadequate ventilation
- Indoor chemical contaminants
- Outdoor chemical contaminants
- Biological contaminants
After the 1973 oil embargo, the government required indoor air ventilation systems to provide only five cubic feet of outside air per minute per occupant as opposed to the 15 cfm previously required. Not only is this very limited air circulation inadequate for many work environments, a building’s HVAC system may not efficiently and effectively distribute even this minimal amount of fresh air.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recently revised its own ventilation standard, reinstating the 15 cfm per person standard in most situations. It recommended 20 cfm per person for office spaces and up to 60 cfm per person in specialized building areas such as designated smoking areas or those where the work involves significant dust, smoke, fumes, etc.
Indoor Chemical Contaminants
Materials and products such as the following put chemical contaminants into a building’s air:
- Manufactured wood products
- Copy machines
- Cleaning agents
Even low exposure to the volatile organic compounds these products and materials produce can result in your suffering acute reactions. High and/or long-term exposure can even lead to cancer since some of the VOCs produced are known carcinogens.
Outdoor Chemical Contaminants
Outdoor pollutants, such as from vehicle exhausts, outdoor landscaping and nearby buildings’ plumbing vents and air exhausts can enter your building via open windows and opening and closing entry doors. In addition, your building’s air intake vents may be inadequate to remove the pollutants, especially if they are poorly located.
Depending on your building and the activities you and other employees conduct in it, you could be exposed to the following on a daily basis:
These biological contaminants can breed in your building’s air ducts, humidifiers, drain pans, ceiling tiles, insulation, carpeting or any other damp areas. Even bird droppings inadvertently brought into the building on your shoes and those of other employees can carry and breed biological contaminants.
By law, your employer is required to provide you and your co-workers with a safe, healthy workplace. If you and your cohorts are constantly complaining about allergy-like or other symptoms while at work, ask your employer to conduct an indoor air quality investigation. These types of investigations take awhile, often several months, to complete, but are often effective in identifying the source(s) of your building’s sickness and correcting them. If, however, your symptoms persist even after the investigation, you may have a valid personal injury claim against your employer.
If you need a personal injury litigator or if you are an attorney who needs outside personal injury litigation help, please call Richard A. Dubi toll-free at 833-FOR-DUBI (833-367-3824).