Is Your Building Sick?

If you dread going to work in California, it may not be because your work stresses you out and you hate your job. If your eyes start watering and/or you begin coughing or sneezing uncontrollably or your muscles start aching every time you hit the front door, you may work in a sick building. 

Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that some buildings actually are or can become sick. While your employer by law must provide you with a safe and healthy workplace, many buildings suffer from sickness due to one or more of the following problems:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Biological contamination
  • Indoor chemical contamination
  • Outdoor chemical contamination

Ventilation issues

Per federal law, the ventilation system in your building must provide you and every one of your co-workers with a minimum of five cubic feet of outdoor air per minute. Depending on what types of work you and your co-workers perform, however, this may be far too little fresh air. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends that office spaces should have 15 cfm. For areas of your building where fumes, dust, or smoke are a problem, it recommends 20 cfm.

Biological contamination issues

If certain parts of your building often become damp or wet, such as its carpeting, ceiling tiles, or air ducts, these are breeding grounds for molds, bacteria, viruses, and pollens. Your risk is particularly high if you work in an environment such as a hospital, doctor’s office, nursing home, or another place where people with health issues live or visit.

Indoor contamination issues

It may not have occurred to you that some materials and substances in your building can contaminate the air you breathe every day. Such things include the following:

  • Carpeting
  • Upholstery
  • Manufactured wood products
  • Copy machines
  • Cleaning products

All of these things, plus many others, contain volatile organic compounds that can put your health at risk. Worse yet, some of the VOCs are known carcinogens.

Outdoor contamination issues

While few modern buildings let you open the windows, this “amenity” still exists in older buildings. Even in modern buildings, entrance and exit doors allow the influx of outside contaminants. In addition, your building’s ventilation system may not be adequate to remove such outdoor pollutants as pollens from nearby landscaping and vehicle and building exhausts and fumes.

If you think your building is sick, report your suspicions and your symptoms to your supervisor or a member of your company’s management team. Your building should undergo a professional site survey and the necessary cleanup for any air or other pollution problem that the survey reveals. If your employer does all this properly, you may discover that you love your job after all.