UCL News


Sick building syndrome 'is result of poor management' 

23 March 2006

The workplace illness 'sick building syndrome', which is said to cost businesses millions of pounds each year, is caused by poor managers rather than a poor environment, a study says today.

Researchers found that the 10 symptoms commonly associated with the illness, which was identified by the World Health Organisation more than 20 years ago, were linked to long hours and lack of support at work. …

It had been thought that poor air quality and airborne bacteria caused the syndrome.
Dr Mai Stafford [UCL Epidemiology & Public Health] said: "We found no evidence that the buildings themselves are important in 'sick building syndrome'. It seems to be wrongly named.

"Psychological factors of work - stress brought on by lack of control, long hours and unsupportive managers - were far more important." …

The new study of 4,000 Civil Service workers in 44 offices suggests that the only cure could be through better management.

Dr Stafford, reporting the findings in the 'British Medical Journal' today, said: "The only area of the physical environment that had a significant effect on health was in control over the desk space. If employees could choose what lighting and heat they worked in, they were less likely to report symptoms.

"It shows that employers need to consider job stress above an audit of physical properties."

Workers were asked if they had experienced the "SBS symptoms" of headaches, coughs, tired eyes, runny noses, lethargy, dry and sore throats and wheezing in the previous fortnight.

Although more than half of women said they had experienced headaches, and a third said they were tired for no reason, this was linked to job stress rather than a common environmental problem, the study said.

The findings could pose problems for the growing numbers of SBS consultants who will 'syndrome-proof' a building for about £1,000 a day. …

The researchers said that the quality of buildings was still "very important" and could play some factor in a person's health.

Amy Iggulden, 'The Daily Telegraph', 23 March 2006