U.K. Study: "Sick Building Syndrome" a Misnomer

Next time you feel like calling in sick, don't blame the building that you work in. According to a study published in London, the "sick building syndrome" a term coined by the World Health Organization may be a misnomer as researchers suggest that tough work demands and job stress may be causing the cold-like symptoms and not the quality of a building's design and its facilities.

The study "Building Health: An Epidemiological Study of 'Sick Building Syndrome'" was put together by researchers who went to 44 work sites around London and asked 4,000 civil servants about the relation between symptoms such as cough and fatigue and their work environment and job stress.

The study, which was published in the April edition of the Journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that the dry air and hot offices increased the rate of symptoms slightly. But those who worked in buildings where there was poor air circulation and unacceptably high levels of carbon dioxide, noise, fungus and airborne chemicals reported lower levels of symptoms.

The term "sick building syndrome" is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. Symptoms such as headache, cough, itchy and tired eyes, runny nose and fatigue were associated with the syndrome.

The authors of the study have said that the title of the study was wrongly named as "raised symptoms reporting appears to be due less to poor physical conditions than to a working environment characterized by poor psychosocial conditions."

"We are not making claims that buildings don't matter for anybody, but for the general work force, job stress and job demands seem to have a bigger impact," said Dr. Mai Stafford from the Epidemiology and Public Health Department of the University College in London. Stafford co-authored the study.

According to the authors, the study can be helpful in bringing managers "into the light" and having them consider "causes beyond the physical design and operation of the workplace and should widen their investigation to include the organization of work roles and the autonomy of the work force."

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