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Building Related Ill-Health
(also known as 'Sick Building Syndrome')




Building Related Ill-Health



Building Related Ill-Health :

Any adverse impact on the health of building users - while living, working, generally occupying or visiting a specific building - caused by the planning, design, construction, management, operation or maintenance of that building.


Symptoms and signs may include ........

  • irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;
  • respiratory infections and cough ;
  • voice hoarseness and wheezing ;
  • asthma ;
  • dry mucous membrane and skin ;
  • erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;
  • lethargy ;
  • mental fatigue and poor concentration ;
  • headache ;
  • stress ;
  • muscular strain and backache ;
  • hypersensitivity reactions ;
  • nausea and dizziness ;
  • cancers.

These symptoms and signs are present in the population at large, but are distinguished by being more prevalent in some building users, as a group, when compared with others. The symptoms and signs may disappear, or may be reduced in intensity, when an affected person leaves the building. It is not necessary that everyone in a building should be affected before Building Related Ill-Health (BRI) is suspected.

Ergonomic Factors, such as repetitive tasking, poorly designed workstations and seating, and extended use of computer equipment without breaks, etc., and Construction Factors, such as poor thermal performance, lack of ventilation and/or windows with views to the exterior, unwanted or nuisance noise, inadequate lighting, prolonged exposure to radioactive radon gas, etc., will all cause adverse health impacts on people.

Low indoor air quality may occur in all types and ages of buildings - exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) poses a known and serious hazard to health.

Problems in modern, clean buildings are seldom related to microbial growth, since the physical structures are new. Older buildings, however, which are inadequately maintained will have problems with bioaerosols if parts of those buildings have been allowed to become reservoirs for microbial growth.

Regardless of building age, if inadequate/dirty outside air is provided for ventilation, chemical and biological contaminants will increase to levels which cause ill-health.





'Real' Health & Safety in a Building / Workplace


  1. The necessity of carrying out a Health & Safety Survey is established, and notified to us. These Surveys should always include an examination of Fire Safety for All .... covering those people living, working, generally occupying or visiting the building / workplace .... but also including, as a matter of routine practice, 'people with activity limitations'.

    See Fire Evacuation-for-All

    Allow for 10% of People Using the Building (occupants, visitors and other users) having an Impairment (visual or hearing, physical function, mental or cognitive, some not being identifiable and others not wanting to self-identify).

  2. Based on our Survey Recommendations, an Implementation Plan is developed - usually in co-operation with a local architect and/or engineer, contractor(s), suppliers, etc. These local people must be 'competent persons' ... and specify / use / supply products which can be properly shown to be 'fit for their intended use'.

    See our Technical Guidance Notes

  3. A Health & Safety Management System should then be put in place - to maintain, and continually re-assess at regular intervals (i.e. at least once a year), a satisfactory level of 'real' health and safety in the building / workplace.

  4. A concise Health & Safety Manual is developed - supported by a comprehensive Health & Safety File. In the case of Large Organizations, the Corporate Health & Safety Statement at the beginning of every local Manual must be consistent with the Corporate Health & Safety Statement (and Corporate Social Responsibility Statement) of the Organization's Head Office.

    Trans-National Organizations

  5. All Health & Safety Documentation should be produced in at least Two Languages - on each and every page (as appropriate). On the left hand side of the page: the Local Language ... and on the right hand side: English. Documentation should be available for viewing / inspection by all local employees .... and the Organization's Head Office.

  6. Typically, and In the absence of adequate local legal requirements, the Template for our Health & Safety Survey shall be Annex I of European Union Council Directive 89/654/EEC. With regard to ensuring compliance with Local National Law, actual copies of relevant local legislation should be present in the local Health & Safety File. Applicable requirements should be known by local management. Compliance with local legislation is always cross-checked.

    European Union Council Directive 89/654/EEC
    Click Here to Download PDF
    (PDF File, 68kb)

  7. The Responsibility for maintaining an adequate level of 'real' health and safety in the local building / workplace shall be that of local management. Adequate resources must be devoted by the management to that objective. Ignorance of the law can be no defence, in the event of an accident or any significant incident of Building Related Ill-Health.

    The Responsibility of local management in a workplace extends not only to local employees, but also to any local visitors .... and commences when the employees / visitors enter the workplace - whether or not the entrance and entrance circulation spaces are under the control of local management. This Responsibility extends until the employees / visitors leave the workplace in normal circumstances - or, they can reach a pre-designated 'place of safety' in the case of a fire or other emergency.

    A specific person, along with his/her deputy, in an Organization's Head Office shall be designated as the People with Overall Responsibility for Health & Safety in the local workplace.



Click here to go directly to the NDSC  -  Ireland
National Disease Surveillance Centre - Ireland
January, 2005 - re-named Health Protection Surveillance Centre
and integrated into National Health Service Executive (HSE)

One Page Fact Sheet

Legionnaires' Disease

Click Here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 30kb)




European Agency for Safety & Health at Work

Information Network of the EASHW

Global Gateway to Health, Safety & Welfare at Work


Fact Sheet 100 (2011)
Legionella & Legionnairesí Disease: European Policies and Good Practices

Click Here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 133 kb)




Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

U.S. Health House Project

A Guide for Creating a Healthier Home
This is a short booklet published by the Health House Project - a public awareness raising programme of the American Lung Association, in conjunction with 3M
Click Here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 708kb)






U.S. National Institutes of Health - Publication No. 2039 (August 2003)

Cancer & the Environment
What You Need To Know
What You Can Do
Click Here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 598kb)

Link to Press Release NIEHS PR #05-01 of 31 January 2005

U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

List of Cancer Causing-Agents Grows



Link to U.S. National Toxicology Programme





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