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Pennsylvania Office Lung Illness and Sick Building Syndrome

Posted D. Joseph Chapman on Oct 28, 2013 in Workers' Compensation

Cold and flu season is a rite of autumn: kids bring home the sniffles one day, and pass that on to their parents, who carry it with them to the office. Soon, everyone in the workplace will be carrying around a box of tissues.

The remarkable and unpleasant fact is that a few workplaces are like that all year long. Everyone seems to be dealing with a persistent respiratory infection or low-grade cold, and this goes on week after week. Some sensitive office workers may find themselves completely disabled by a lung illness, and may in fact face life-threatening complications.

Among the complaints:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Lung congestion and breathing difficulties
  • Respiratory infections
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unusual sensitivity to tastes and odors

This isn’t a cold. It sounds like a case of sick building syndrome.

Sick buildings make for sick people

The phrase “sick building syndrome” has been used since the late 1980s to describe a condition in which people suffer health problems just from living or working in a particular structure. It’s commonly believed that the ultimate cause of “sick buildings” is a flaw in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Typically, either the ventilation system is providing an inadequate airflow, or it is dispersing contaminants throughout the office air.

A 1984 report from a World Health Organization committee estimated that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings may trigger health complaints from deficient indoor air quality. Those people who are exposed to the building environment for an extended period—such as office workers—may be most vulnerable for workplace lung ailments.

Among the potential ways that a ventilation system can cause persistent occupational disease for office workers, experts have identified these causes:

  • Failure to circulate at least 20 cubic feet per minute of fresh air for each office occupant.
  • Distributing toxic vapors, such as evaporated solvents or vehicle exhaust, from another part of the building or from the outside.
  • Combustion products such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter.
  • Specific point sources for indoor air pollution, such as fresh paint, carpeting, office machines, or cleaning compounds.
  • Biological contaminants such as molds, bacteria, insect droppings, or pollen.

Take action now

If you believe that your office respiratory disease has been caused or worsened because of the air quality or environmental factors in your workplace, you should follow these steps:

  • Seek emergency medical care, if needed.
  • Alert your manager, boss, or your company’s human resources department that you have suffered an occupational illness.
  • File a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation claim.
  • Consult with a skilled Harrisburg workers’ compensation attorney.

At Schmidt Kramer, we have had notable success in getting occupational illness benefits for clients in Harrisburg, Carlisle, Lebanon, and surrounding communities. We’d like the opportunity to help you, too. Give us a call today at 888-476-0807 for a FREE case evaluation and answers to your questions. We also recommend you download a FREE copy of our introduction to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work?