Sick-building symptoms in office workers in northeastern France: a pilot study

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Study objectives: To verify that sick building symptoms are present in north-eastern France office workers; to try to identify new confounding factors. Methods: The design was that of a cross-sectional study with control group.We studied with the same methods the personnel of an air-conditioned building (n = 425), and of a naturally ventilated building (n = 351). Air temperature and humidity, bacterial and fungal densities were measured by the same technical staff in the two buildings. A standard questionnaire on irritative and respiratory symptoms, personal and family history, and lifestyle was completed by the participants. Results: In univariate analysis, exposure to air-conditioning was associated with an increased prevalence of symptoms (odds ratios-OR-between 1.54 and 2.84). A significant increase in sickness absence was also found among subects working in air-conditioned offices. As a series of factors were suspected to interfere with these associations, logistic regression was applied. This method confirmed exposure to be an independent determinant of 7 symptoms, and also identified two determinants not previously described: a family history of respiratory diseases and “do-it-yourself” activities. In Conclusion: we found the sick building symptoms to be present in a group of French office workers exposed to air-conditioning. We confirmed the influence of a number of confounding factors and described two further confounders – do-it-yourself activities at home and a history of familial respiratory disease.