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Do you work in a sick building?

You know the feelings. As soon as you hit the front door of your Colorado office or other workplace, you start sneezing. Your eyes begin watering. You start coughing. Maybe your muscles start to ache. If going to work has become something you dread because you know you will feel sick the whole time you are there, maybe it is not you. Maybe your building is the culprit.

If you have never heard of a sick building, be assured that such buildings do exist. The Environmental Protection Agency devotes a whole page to this phenomenon on its website. According to the EPA, buildings become sick from one or more of the following causes:

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

Indoor chemical contamination

Unbeknownst to you, many things in your building can off-gas volatile organic compounds that can put your health at risk, such as the following:

  • Copy machines
  • Manufactured wood products
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Carpeting
  • Cleaning products

Outdoor chemical contamination

Even if you work in an airtight building where you cannot open the windows, outdoor contaminants have a way of sneaking into it. Entrance and exit doors are the biggest culprits here. Vehicle fumes, pollen and even exhaust fumes from nearby buildings come in every time someone goes in or out of your building. Your building’s own ventilation system may be inadequate to fully dispel these contaminants.

Poor ventilation

Speaking of your building’s ventilation system, are you aware that, per federal law, it must provide only five cubic feet of outdoor air per minute per person? That is not a lot of air. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends a minimum of 15 cfm for office spaces and 20 cfm for building areas where dust, smoke and fumes pose a problem.

Biological contamination

It goes without saying that if you work in a hospital, nursing home, doctor’s office or other place frequented by sick people, you are at high risk for catching something. The same holds true if you work in a building that receives high public traffic such as a courthouse, retail store, restaurant, etc. Molds, bacteria and viruses thrive in wet environments such as damp carpeting, ceiling tiles and your building’s air ducts.

If you think you may be working in a sick building, report your suspicions and your symptoms to your supervisor or other member of your company’s management team. Oftentimes a professional site survey can uncover lurking contaminants and the sources from which they come. A consequent thorough clean-up often fixes the problems.