Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

The Work Environment and Workers' Health in Four Large Office Buildings

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

The Work Environment and Workers' Health in Four Large Office Buildings

Article excerpt

We conducted a 1-year epidemiologic study in Boston, Massachusetts, beginning May 1997, to examine the associations between environmental factors and office workers' health. We recruited 98 subjects (81 females and 17 males) in 21 offices in four office buildings. We conducted environmental sampling every 6 weeks and concurrently administered detailed questionnaires to collect information on work-related symptoms, psychosocial factors, and perceptions of the office environments. In multivariate analyses, eye irritation was positively correlated with floor dust [odds ratio (OR) = 1.46; 95% confidence intervals (CI), 1.14-1.86] and reported lack of office cleanliness (OR = 1.52; 95% CI, 1.11-2.08). Nonspecific symptoms were positively associated with unidentified chair fungi (OR = 1.87; 95% CI, 1.11-3.15) and several self-reported conditions, including a history of asthma (OR = 3.15; 95% CI, 1.26-7.87), more people in offices (OR = 1.71; 95% CI, 1.16-2.51), lack of office cleanliness (OR = 2.85; 95% CI, 1.72-4.73), and low job satisfaction (OR = 1.72; 95% CI, 1.06-2.81). Upper respiratory symptoms were positively associated with total fungal concentrations recovered from chair dust (OR = 1.35; 95% CI, 1.07-1.70) and the following self-reported conditions: more people in offices (OR = 1.45; 95% CI, 1.01-2.08), lack of office cleanliness (OR = 1.62; 95% CI, 1.15-2.30), and jobs frequently requiring hard work (OR = 1.43; 95% CI, 1.05-1.95). This study emphasizes the importance of maintaining a clean, uncrowded workspace and the importance of chair fungi as a correlate for health effects. Key words: building-related symptoms, culturable fungi, indoor environmental quality, sick building syndrome. Environ Health Perspeet 111:1242-1248 (2003). doi:10.1289/ehp.5697 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 25 February 2003]

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Nonspecific building-related symptoms (BRS), sometimes called sick building syndrome, have emerged as an occupational and environmental health issue since the early 1980s (Burge et al. 1987; Mendell 1993). BRS refers to a group of symptoms (i.e., eye, nose, and throat irritation; fatigue; headache; or other discomfort). This group of symptoms cannot be assigned to a specific illness and usually does not have an identifiable cause, but it appears to be building related (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists 1999). Although not life threatening, this group of symptoms can be unpleasant and disruptive, causing lost work time and reduced productivity (Fisk and Rosenfeld 1997; Woods 1989).

Many cross-sectional epidemiologic and experimental studies have indicated that air contaminants [e.g., bioaerosols, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)], psychosocial factors (e.g., female sex, job satisfaction), and building characteristics (e.g., low ventilation rates) may be associated with BRS (Men&Il 1993; Norback et al. 1990; Teeuw et al. 1994). However, a definitive causal relationship has not been established because of the lack of standardized investigating protocols, baseline data, and guidelines for interpretation. To address these issues, in 1994, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a cross-sectional epidemiologic study, the Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation (BASE) program (U.S. EPA 1994a). Using standardized protocols, the BASE program evaluated the indoor environment and occupant perceptions in randomly selected noncomplaint office buildings across the United States. Environmental data collected included observations of building characteristics; assessment of the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system; and measurements of temperature, relative humidity, VOCs, particulate matter, bioaerosols, among others. Occupants' perceptions of health and comfort were assessed by a comprehensive self-administered questionnaire (the BASE questionnaire). The goal was to establish a baseline database leading to guidelines for the indoor environment (U. …

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