17th May, 2022

How HSE professionals can bust Sick Building Syndrome.

The good news –Sick Building Syndrome has finally been acknowledged as a health hazard at the workplace and appropriate standards are in place.
No-so-good news- The solutions are expensive, unsatisfactory or challenging to implement.
The connection between HSE and Sick Building Syndrome – Indoor Air Quality is the term commonly used to represent Sick Building Syndrome in HSE Code of Practice documents.
Short-term and Long-term effects of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) – In the long term, SBS is carcinogenic and directly linked to fatality. In layman language, employees may die or develop cancer as a result of prolonged exposure to sick building syndrome. In the short term, SBS is directly linked to reduced productivity, absenteeism and reduced sense of well-being.

So why is Sick Building Syndrome not on the priority list of HSE professionals?

Because current solutions to manage Sick Building Syndrome provide limited scope for HSE interventions. For example, usual recommendations revolve around HVAC maintenance, securing the building envelope, investigating for poorly positioned air intake vents, isolating the exhaust of printer rooms and reducing the use cleaning products, upholstery, paints that emit VOCs. Most of these interventions are outside the scope of HSE professionals and often of limited value in addressing sick building syndrome.

So what can HSE professionals do to manage SBS at the workplace?

1.      Start with baseline measurements. HSE professionals will need to provide evidence of sick building syndrome. A free snapshot reading service is available at Leader Healthcare. Standards compliant 24-hour cycle readings are available from Enviro & Industrial Solutions ME www.eis-me.com. The AirVisual is a cost-effective device to perform baseline measurements. It is available on www.airvisual.com/air-quality-monitor for $269. The upside of using AirVisual is that it is compliant with US AQI and provides both – snapshot reading as well as long term tracking of air quality. The downside of using AirVisual is that it does not have a VOC reading separately. The VOC reading is important because it is one of the primary causes of sick building syndrome. The GrayWolf environmental meter allows you to capture accurate TVOC levels at the work place. Generic TVOC meters can be utilized, but do keep a buffer for sensor sensitivity.

2.      Initiate HSE intervention for sick building syndrome in one or two zones at the workplace where these may have a significant impact.
For example, the conference room, canteen area, administration department, or any other area where peak productivity or relaxation is critical.

3.      Install portable air purification units in contained or closed spaces, such as conference rooms and executive offices. Medical grade air purification units with VOC filter, disinfecting mechanism and Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) between 200 – 900 CFM are recommended.  HVAC-based air purification interventions are energy efficient and suitable for large, integrated spaces. TheHVAC-based air purification units must be medical grade with VOC filter and disinfecting mechanism. In addition, the system must deliver consistent performance and permit retrofit installation.

4.      Collaborate with the HVAC engineering team to create a comprehensive SBS Management Plan and to rule out HVAC related issues, such as leakages, mold, poorly located air intake vents and compromised building envelope.

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