What is Sick Building Syndrome?

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

by / Friday, 25 June 2021 / Published in Workplace Woes
Woman with a headache sits in front of a computer.

When people develop occupational illnesses, there’s often a clear cause. For example, someone might develop hearing loss after working in a noisy environment. Or someone could develop cancer after being exposed to a known hazardous material as part of their job, like asbestos. When employers know of hazards in the workplace, such as high noise levels and dangerous substances, they have a responsibility to take steps to protect their employees.

But in other cases, the cause isn’t so clear. Sometimes, people report feeling sick after spending time in their workplace, even if there aren’t a lot of immediate hazards. This can include problems like sore throats, a shortness of breath, chills, body aches, dizziness, headaches, and symptoms similar to colds and allergies, just to name a few. For some people, it can result in more frequent asthma attacks. But after they leave at the end of the day, for the weekend, or take a vacation from work, they begin to feel better, only for the symptoms to return once they’re back at work. And the process just keeps repeating itself. While it can be easy to dismiss these complaints as people simply looking for an excuse to get out of work, there is a name for this situation: sick building syndrome.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Sick building syndrome is the name given to a situation when multiple people in the workforce of a building experience illnesses or symptoms of an illness, such as those listed above. People might not experience the exact same symptoms, but they tend to be similar in nature. Often, symptoms are bad enough that people need to miss time at work. The key thing that distinguishes symptoms of sick building syndrome from other types of illnesses is the fact that people tend to feel better when they’re not in the workplace. Even though many of the symptoms of sick building syndrome are not life threatening, it can also cause more serious problems, such as miscarriage and other issues with pregnancy.

Sick building syndrome has been a growing issue since the 1970s, but it’s not always an easy problem to diagnose. The most famous example of sick building syndrome occurred in 1976 when 182 members of the American Legion developed an unusual type of pneumonia after attending a conference. It took months before it was found that the illness was caused by a then-unknown type of bacteria that had been growing in the warm water of the building’s cooling system. We now refer to this as Legionaire’s Disease.

Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome is related to poor indoor air quality, which can be caused by many different things. Mold in the building; fumes emitted by new paint, furniture, or flooring; exhaust from parking garages; ozone emitted by printers, copiers, or fax machines; chemicals used in cleaning products; chemicals used by exterminators, carbon monoxide; and bacteria in heating and cooling systems are all commonly associated with sick building syndrome. Poor ventilation makes these problems even worse.

The reason sick building syndrome has been a growing occurrence since the 1970s is because that’s when efforts were starting to be made to make buildings more energy efficient. Unfortunately, this has led to it being harder for contaminated air to escape since many office buildings no longer have windows that can be opened to let fresh air in and bad air out. This has made having proper, well-maintained HVAC systems extremely important.

Get Help from a Workplace Illness Lawyer

If you believe you have been harmed by sick building syndrome, don’t hesitate to contact a workplace injury lawyer to learn about your rights. Since it’s not always easy to pinpoint a cause of sick building syndrome, employers may be quick to dismiss these claims. It’s also important to find out if more could have been done to prevent your illness.

At Goodwin & Scieszka, you’ll be able to get help from a lawyer who has handled many different types of cases involving occupational injuries and illnesses in the state of Michigan. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

Image: iStock / fizkes

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