Sick Building Syndrome – HSE Guidance

It’s common for office workers to complain of symptoms including headaches, nausea, drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. Almost by magic; however, these symptoms then disappear as employees leave the office for the day.

These symptoms are likely to be associated with what is known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS is the term used to summarise these varying and temporary symptoms and can be caused by a wide variety of factors.


Key amongst which is ventilation and airflow. Each adult produces roughly 1kg of CO2 a day, just through breathing. This CO2 accumulates, in conjunction with CO2 from other sources such as office equipment and general air pollution.

High concentrations of CO2 are known to cause symptoms similar to those listed above. CO2 build-ups can be remedied and prevented through proper ventilation, which can be as simple as opening a window.

In larger offices, however, this is not always possible, which is where a mechanical ventilation system is required. Such systems can also be used to control temperature excesses or fluctuations, which can also contribute to SBS.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) maintains that minimum airflow in an office space should be 8 litres per person, per second and spaces which house office machinery such as printers and copiers should operate specific ventilation to control fumes.

Ventilation Health

You may find that even though your office has all the correct ventilation systems in place, workers still experience symptoms of SBS. This could be caused by faulty or dirty ductwork, either not circulating enough air, or circulating air that has become contaminated by the ventilation system itself.

Similar defects can be exposed with regards to temperature also, as the faulty ductwork fails to maintain a comfortable working climate.

The HSE urges employers to take prompt but considered action when employees report suffering symptoms of SBS, as it helps to maintain morale. SBS left unattended results in drops in productivity and employee discomfort.

Official guidelines state that:

“Regulations 1992 require that effective provision should be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air. Where this ventilation is provided by mechanical means, the Regulations require those mechanical ventilation systems to be maintained (including cleaning as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. Failure to carry out these duties is a breach of the Regulations.”


For further information about SBS including symptoms and remedies, visit the HSE guide covering SBS here.

If you suspect your office or working environment is the victim of SBS, click here to learn more about Ductbusters’ services.

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