Sick building syndrome has probably acquired a misleading connotation, being prominently associated with insalubrious conditions, while actually the syndrome is caused by acute job stress, according to a recent academic insight.
The term "sick building syndrome" popularly indicated a group of symptoms that manifested as problems with the eyes, skin, respiratory infections of the upper tract, all of which was thought of as an outcome of improper building design. This syndrome has been the root cause for many organizations and enterprises to lose out heavily, on account of poor turnout, and reduced productivity.
Researchers discussed with 4,000 civil servants from 44 buildings in London about their environment, job pressures and about other health symptoms such as coughs and fatigue.
The discussion revealed that dry air and hot offices did contribute to such symptoms but the symptoms shot up with acute stress. The London researchers now debate that these symptoms may have come up more, due to work related stress, rather than faulty building design. Stress, that was a result of a demanding job, was linked with higher rates of this syndrome.
Outside observers were also asked to gauge the civil servants' physical work environment by evaluating factors such as temperature and light. The observers were also enabled an insight into the job demands and support mechanisms available for the workers. It was found that nearly 14% of men and 19% of women came up with nearly five symptoms of the syndrome. Of course the symptoms were pronounced in buildings that were not conducive to a healthy working environment, marked with high temperatures, poor humidity, bacteria and dust. It was also observed that workers who could control their environment and steer it to make it conducive for them, reported less of these symptoms.
The study authors said: "Sick building syndrome may be wrongly named - raised symptoms reporting appears to be due less to poor physical conditions than to a working environment characterized by poor psychosocial conditions. Our findings suggest that, in this sample of office based workers, physical attributes of buildings have a small influence on symptoms."
Co-author Dr Mai Stafford of the Epidemiology and Public Health department of University College London, said: "We are not making claims that buildings don't matter for anybody. But for the general workforce job stress and job demands seem to have a bigger impact. There certainly could be buildings which do have physical properties that are very bad."
Andrew Griffiths, principal policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said the study's findings seemed practical and sensible. He said: "Stress is a key health and safety issue which managers must address. The concept of sick building syndrome can act as a distraction; employers must address all factors which influence health and safety as part of their legal responsibilities under the Health and Safety Act."
The research has been published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Journal