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Assessment of work-related symptoms in office workers in a non-complaint building using a multi-building reference database.

Anderson-PJ; Ruder-AM; Petersen-MR; Alderfer-RJ; Mendell-MJ; Mouradian-R
Am J Epidemiol 1996 Jun; 143(11)(Suppl):S16
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted four seasonal surveys in 1992 at a General Services Administration (GSA) building in Overland, Missouri, using a standard instrument to collect symptom information from occupants. The GSA building, first occupied in 1991, serves as a Federal Records Center, houses 1800 to 2000 employees, and is not known to be a complaint building. A compatible instrument was used in 105 "complaint" office building Health Hazard Evaluations (HHE's) in over 35 states in spring 1993. Twelve symptoms in four categories (upper respiratory and mucous membranes, lower respiratory, nervous system, and skin) were compared between the two data sets. A lower prevalence of symptoms in the GSA building was expected, but the profiles of symptom prevalence in the two data sets were remarkably similar. Striking differences were not found, for any of the 12 symptoms, in the mean percent of occupants reporting symptoms, between the NIOSH HHE buildings and the GSA building. Dry, itchy, or irritated eyes; stuffy or runny nose; headache; and unusual tiredness and fatigue each had a prevalence of 20-25% for females and 15-20% for males in the GSA building and 24-35% for females and 11-19% for males in the HHE buildings. This is the first use for a building not in the HHE database of an approach developed by Mendell et al.: assessing each symptom in a building under investigation in comparison to "background" levels. The lack of difference between "complaint" buildings and a non-complaint building illustrates the difficulty in identifying "sick" buildings and underscores the need for a sound epidemiologic approach to identifying such buildings. The large number of workers reporting work-related symptoms suggests that symptoms in the office environment may be a larger public health problem than previously recognized.
Occupational-health; Work-areas; Work-environment; Worker-health; Workplace-studies; Inhalation-studies; Employee-exposure; Employee-health; Employees; Exposure-assessment; Health-hazards; Health-surveys
PJ Anderson, NIOSH, DSHEFS, Alice Hamilton Laboratory, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226
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American Journal of Epidemiology