Influence of indoor air quality and personal factors on the sick building syndrome (SBS) in Swedish geriatric hospitals

K Nordström, D Norbäck, R Akselsson
Occupational and Environmental Medicine 1995, 52 (3): 170-6

OBJECTIVES: Sick building syndrome (SBS) involves symptoms such as irritation to the eyes, skin, and upper airways, headache, and fatigue. The relations between such symptoms and both personal and environmental factors were studied in 225 female hospital workers, working in eight hospital units in the south of Sweden.

METHODS: Symptoms of SBS and personal factors were measured by means of a standardised self administered questionnaire. The technical investigation comprised a building survey and measurements of room temperature, supply air temperature, air humidity, and exhaust air flow.

RESULTS: The prevalence of symptoms differed from one unit to another. The mean value of weekly complaints of fatigue was 30%, of eye irritation 23%, and of dry facial skin 34%. Eye irritation was related to work stress, self reported exposure to static electricity, and was also more common in buildings with a high ventilation flow and a high noise level (55 dB(A)) from the ventilation system. Nasal symptoms were related to asthma and hay fever only. Throat symptoms were more common in smokers, subjects with asthma or hay fever, new buildings, and in buildings with a high ventilation flow. Facial skin irritation was related to a lack of control of the work conditions, and was more common in new buildings, and buildings with a high ventilation flow and ventilation noise. General symptoms, such as headache and fatigue, were related to current smoking, asthma or hay fever, work dissatisfaction, and static electricity.

CONCLUSION: As the prevalence of symptoms was high, there is a need to improve the indoor environment as well as the psychosocial environment in hospitals. These improvements could include a reduction of ventilation noise, minimised smoking, and improvements in the psychosocial climate. Further research is needed to identify indoor climatic factors that cause the increased prevalence of symptoms of SBS in new buildings.

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