Are you sick in your head (office)?
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) was once treated with some scepticism by corporate South Africa. Like yuppie flu, its extensive list of symptoms meant SBS was often misdiagnosed to the extent that the phenomenon seemed unreal as a stand-alone illness.
However, work in a sick building and SBS becomes very real as you try to produce quality work while constantly suffering from flu or allergy-like symptoms. These could include headaches, burning or itching eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, tight chest, dry or itchy skin, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, nausea and fatigue - as soon as you step through the front door.
It is this immediate effect that meant SBS was often attributed to stress at work. People feel just fine mere minutes after they exit a sick building. We have had companies complaining that their sick buildings mean clients don’t want to meet with them anymore. No face-to-face contact means corporate relationships quickly sour and the end of that crucial anchor client. SBS is serious business.
Sick building causes are most often the result of flaws in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as well as contaminants emanating from building materials. Moulds caused by poorly-maintained air conditioning units are a primary cause of SBS and this is where OSI comes to the fore. The company offers a range of wall and ceiling-mounted units that use either ozone gas or UV light to sanitise air in order to destroy the pathogens that cause or aggravate SBS.
The SA Reserve Bank, mortuaries in Gauteng and various hospitals around the country all use OSI sanitising units to vastly improve the quality of their air. Call centres are another important client segment for us owing to the closed conditions and the extensive use of airflow-reducing partitions. He added that the company was last month asked to consult to a call centre in the Randburg CBD with 800 employees working very crowded conditions.
We were called in after five employees collapsed. We determined the cause to be carbon dioxide poisoning due to poor ventilation and mold in the air conditioning units. We furthermore took swabs of the surface areas and found too many pathogens to count. The immediate solution was to do a peroxide fog after the employees went home and to install UV roof-mounted units to kill the mold in the air conditioning units. The simple act of opening the windows also helped.
The decaying state of many buildings in South African CBDs means their building materials are emitting chemicals as they degrade, providing another possible cause of SBS.
OSI’s range of sanitising units can furthermore help prevent employees contracting swine flu and other airborne diseases such as tuberculosis.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); air cleaners can help clean the air of contaminated droplets spread from person to person. Common germs and allergens can also be brought under control by sanitising units employing High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, antimicrobial protection, ultraviolet germicidal light and steam sterilization – all of which are can be deployed by OSI to prevent SBS.
Ian Wright is the Managing Director of Ozone Services Industries (OSI).