What is “Sick Building Syndrome”?

The term “sick building syndrome” is used to describe situations in which building occupants claim they have experienced acute health and comfort effects that are linked to time spent in a building. Some symptoms include mucous membrane irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; headache; unusual tiredness or fatigue; or dry or itchy skin. Such claims do not always include a medically confirmed specific illness or cause that can be pinpointed, but are often associated with claims of poor ventilation, poor IAQ, or chemical and biological contaminants inside or outside a building.

Diminished building air quality, like high humidity, biological contaminants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), bacteria, fungi, pollen, viruses, and dust can have a negative impact on employee comfort, productivity, health, and well-being, increasing the risk of allegations of “sick building syndrome”.

The benefits on improving a building’s indoor air quality (IAQ) can have a substantial effect on occupant peace-of-mind, increase employee production, and subsequently on a return on investment (ROI). Employers and building owners can take proactive measures to improve the IAQ of their buildings and help reduce the risk of “sick building syndrome” claims from building occupants.



Building owners can begin by following regulatory standards provided through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) specifying minimum ventilation rates and other measures acceptable to the ANSI/ASHRAE standard related to IAQ for building occupants. While these regulations claim to provide a great baseline for an occupant’s health, they do not necessarily ensure healthy or productive IAQ.  Employers and building owners can reduce the risk of a claim of “sick building syndrome” by having an assessment on their building’s ventilations system and engineering controls that include sampling, data analysis, and modeling.

Studies have shown the value of installing, maintaining, and monitoring building ventilation systems and IAQ. A Harvard study states people who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores than those who work in offices with typical levels.

RHP Risk Management’s Certified Industrial Hygienists and public health professionals offer customized recommendations based on your building’s IAQ and tools to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. RHP uses a two-fold approach, which includes evaluating building ventilation systems utilizing a DNA-tagged tracer and providing best-practice guidance, to ensure efficient operations of your building and its occupants. Our experts develop actionable plans and controls for managing, mitigating, and controlling health risks in the workplace through the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of environmental and occupational hazards.

Contact RHP for an initial consultation or call (773) 867-6010.