Effect of a New Ventilation System on Health and Well-Being of Office Workers

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Sick building syndrome is the term given to a heterogeneous constellation of symptoms that affects workers in modern mechanically ventilated office buildings. Although the cause is unknown, there is evidence that the local environment of the work station is an important determinant of symptoms. In this study, investigators examined the effect of a new, individually controlled ventilation system on workers' symptoms. Investigators studied two groups of workers in one mechanically ventilated office building:(1) a control group at whose worksite no intervention was made and (2) an intervention group. The intervention consisted of installation of a device that allowed each worker control over the ventilation supplied to his or her worksite. Just before, and 4 and 16 mo after installation of this device, workers completed self-administered questionnaires regarding occurrence of symptoms. The new ventilation system resulted in higher air velocities, more variable temperatures, and higher concentrations of airborne dust and fungal spores. Four months after installation, workers with the new ventilation system reported fewer symptoms that were (a) work-related (p < .05) and that were work-related and frequent (p < .05); in addition, they reported fewer symptoms that reduced their capacity to work (p < .01). Sixteen months after installation, workers with the new device reported fewer symptoms than at baseline (although not as significantly), and they indicated that the indoor air quality improved their productivity by 11%, compared with a 4% reduction of productivity among the control group of workers (p < .001). Investigators concluded that the new ventilation system, which provided the workers with individual control over ventilation, was associated with important and sustained reduction in symptoms.

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