Last edited 14 Dec 2020

Sick building syndrome


[edit] Introduction

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is the term given to symptoms of acute health and/or comfort effects for which no specific cause can be found but that can be attributed to time spent in a particular building.

SBS differs from building related illness (BRI) because in the case of SBS, the specific cause is unknown, whereas BRI relates to allergic reactions or infections which can be directly attributed to being in the building.

While SBS is not limited to any particular type of building, it is most common in the workplace and is often found in buildings such as open-plan offices, schools, libraries and museums. The symptoms may be localised to a particular room or part of the buildings, or may be found in the whole of the building.

[edit] Symptoms of sick building syndrome

Anyone can be susceptible to SBS. Sufferers may experience either a combination of symptoms, or one in isolation, and they may vary from day to day without apparent cause. Symptoms generally improve or disappear upon leaving the building, and different people in the same building may experience different types or levels of discomfort.

The most common symptoms of SBS may include:

  • Headaches and dizziness.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Irritated, blocked or runny nose.
  • Eye and throat irritation.
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Shortness of breath or chest tightness.
  • Skin irritation.

The largest category of sufferers is office workers in modern buildings with mechanical ventilation or air conditioning systems, without opening windows. There is a higher risk for workers who are employed in routine work using display screen equipment and women are more at risk than men.

[edit] Causes of sick building syndrome

Since awareness of SBS developed in the 1970s, researchers have tried to pinpoint the precise causes, however, no one single cause has been identified. The most common risk factors believed to contribute to SBS include:

[edit] Dealing with SBS

Building and building services design are associated with many of the factors relating to sick building syndrome, and this can be difficult to address effectively post-construction, requiring expensive remedial works.

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has compiled recommendations for employers about how to investigate the possible causes of sick building syndrome: HSE – How to deal with sick building syndrome. Advice includes:

If symptoms persist it may be necessary to commission a more detailed investigation by a building services engineer or another appropriately qualified consultant.

[edit] Planning and design

To avoid potentially expensive remedial woks, sick building syndrome needs to be considered at an early stage during the planning of new building work, renovation or changes-of-use. This includes:

Building services and internal environment:



[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

[edit] External references

Designing Buildings Anywhere

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