Mondays Not the Issue: Work May Make You Sick

What if Peter's "case of the Mondays" was caused by working in a sick building? Photo credit: "Office Space," 20th Century Fox, 1999

Plenty of people joke that going to work makes them sick. But if you’re in a building with poor air quality, it’s not a joke. Work really IS making you sick.

What if Peter's "case of the Mondays" was caused by working in a sick building? Photo credit: "Office Space," 20th Century Fox, 1999

What if Peter’s “case of the Mondays” was caused by working in a sick building? Photo credit: “Office Space,” 20th Century Fox, 1999

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings have indoor air quality problems. There are plenty of reasons: poor building design, the activities going on inside like manufacturing processes, for example, poorly maintained heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, harsh cleaners or pesticides, or indoor airborne contaminants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are carbon-containing chemicals that can vaporize into the air inside a building, where occupants (like you) breathe them in. VOCs are used as ingredients in many building materials like carpets, upholstery, linoleum, and composite wood products (like particle board). Office equipment like printers, copiers and fax machines can also emit VOCs. Examples of some common VOCs are formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, limonene, and hexane.

Looking at this list, and thinking about all the things inside the average workplace, it is surprising air quality problems aren’t reported more often.

When a building has windows you can open to the outdoor environment, nature can take over. Nature has many tools at hand to clear the air. Ozone and negative ionization can clear your air of many toxins. Even without opening your windows, UV waves from sunlight work wonders at cleaning the air.

But this isn’t always possible, and many windows today have UV filters to save energy.

Maybe it wasn't Mr. Lumbergh's fault in "Office Space" that Peter's job was so horrible. Maybe he worked in a sick building. Photo credit: "Office Space," 20th Century Fox, 1999

Maybe it wasn’t Mr. Lumbergh’s fault in “Office Space” that Peter’s job was so horrible. Maybe he worked in a sick building. Photo credit: “Office Space,” 20th Century Fox, 1999

Some people assume they have a cold or the flu, because their symptoms are so similar and in some cases, equally serious. Numerous studies over the last 20 years have shown that these symptoms can be caused or irritated by poor indoor air quality.

They can include:

  • Headache
  • Throat soreness
  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

You can also experience difficulty concentrating. So that mid-afternoon crash might not be caused by too much caffeine or sugar after all.

These symptoms can show up among people who spend time in just one part of a building, even in a single room or office. If you don’t have another diagnosed illness and you can’t seem to shake these symptoms off – or if they seem to get a little better on your days off and then come back – you could be suffering from what has been called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). When specific causes can be identified, the preferred term is “building related illness.”

As part of an overall strategy to prevent Sick Building Syndrome and building related illness, companies are starting to adopt remedial and preventative practices: cleaning heating and cooling systems, better filtering of the air, greater attention to contaminants, cleaners, and even what kind of furniture and carpets are installed.

Indoor plants have become part of the solution, too. When Nature isn’t accessible to the workplace, bringing a little nature indoors can help filter airborne toxins, increase humidity levels to help stressed respiratory systems cope and breath easier, and decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Read our recent blog post on the Top Ten Plants for Cleaning Your Air.

Bringing in a few houseplants and forgetting about them won’t cut it. If plants are not properly cared for in the workplace, they can make the situation worse. A dusty, dying plant does nothing to help your air quality. Likewise if you’re one of those people who overwaters your plants, you can end up creating an environment for mold, the opposite of what you’re trying to do.

Good Earth Plant Company can pay a visit, survey your working environment and suggest ways that plants can help you actually look forward to coming to work on Monday. OK, maybe this is a little bit of an exaggeration, but your office shouldn’t be making you sick. Get in touch with us at 858-576-9300 or