Beginning in the 1970s, people began to report strange symptoms that only appeared after spending time in particular buildings – most commonly, their office buildings. These symptoms included eye, throat and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, along with general feelings of fatigue and ill health. Often, these symptoms would improve or disappear entirely once employees left their workplace.

“Sick Building Syndrome” to describe these symptoms, believing that flaws in the designs of new buildings were to blame. Ongoing oil embargos had caused energy prices to skyrocket. To counter this, planners wanted to make buildings more energy-efficient, which they achieved by reducing outdoor air ventilation. Unfortunately, this had a knock-on effect: more airtight buildings meant that chemical pollutants like VOCs, and biological contaminants such as bacteria and mould could build-up to the extent that they started to affect the health of employees. Indoor air quality worsened, with air indoors often 2-5 times more polluted than the air outside. On top of this, other conditions in office buildings exacerbated these problems; for instance, photocopiers emit ozone which in high concentrations can cause breathing difficulties.

Download The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indoor air quality survey questionnaire, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) occupational health and comfort questionnaire and the Danish Building Research Institute building diagnostic human resource questionnaire:

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