How to avoid sick office syndrome

There are a number of symptoms that can be characterised by the term “sick office syndrome” and these relate to problems caused by the working environment. A range of factors can contribute to the illness, which is related to ineffective ventilation, indoor pollutants and micro-organisms.

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Typical symptoms

The common symptoms that workers with sick office syndrome tend to complain of are headaches; a dry cough; itchy or dry skin; irritation of the eyes, throat or nose; dizziness and nausea; sensitivity to odours; and fatigue. These problems could all be caused by other factors, but the hallmark of sick office syndrome is when these issues arise soon after leaving work.

The causes

The factors that typically contribute to the problem of sick office syndrome can be related to the design of the building and can include indoor air pollution, inadequate light and lack of natural light, lack of heating and ventilation, artificial fragrances, poor acoustics, poor ergonomics, badly designed furniture and other equipment, and biological or chemical contamination.

These can all lead to a buildup of symptoms, which then results in a higher degree of absence, reduction in productivity and job satisfaction, and increased staff turnover. A US study found that doubling the ventilation in an office actually increased productivity enough to offset the rise in energy costs.

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Avoiding sick office syndrome

There are several measures that employers can put in place to mitigate the issues, which can include a combination of areas.

If a pollutant is present, this can quickly and easily be removed or modified as necessary to limit its impact.

Ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems are often a cause of sick office syndrome, and it is essential to ensure that these are cleaned and maintained regularly, including the replacement of parts such as a ductwork blast gate damper available from suppliers like

The problem of smoking is no longer an issue within actual office buildings, but dedicated outdoor smoking areas need to be positioned a good distance from it and away from any doors or windows that could allow smoke and fumes to get inside.

Employees need as much natural light as possible, and windows should be able to open for added ventilation.

To reduce the buildup of dust mites, soft furnishings need to be cleaned regularly.

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