Offices & Meeting Rooms

I tried the long version of this, but realised it was far too long. The short version is that I am having huge problems with purpose-designed meeting rooms in my big, shiny, new office and I wonder if anyone else has had similar experience. I am fine in the normal open office areas, but have twice had major breathing issues when using the meeting rooms for long sessions. The latest meeting lasted a couple of hours. The other culminated on the 3rd day (exam day) of a training course.

The building is as good as new, having gone through a huge refurbishment that was completed about a year ago, but the offending rooms feel airless, even though air conditioning is on.

I am trying to find a root cause as to why I suffer in such a big way and, armed with that, take whatever action is necessary to either fix or avoid repetition. However, I am not the only asthma sufferer to succomb.

Has anyone else experienced issues like this in their offices? If so, did you locate the cause and how did you deal with it?

There are some obvious things to check. The first is to check me – I am allergic to dust, but have never had any other tests to confirm any other allergies, even though suspected. I think I have managed, today, to get my GP to refer me to the allergy team at RBH for assistance. (RBH is local to me.) The next, dust remaining in the air systems from the building refurbishment, would certainly seem a favourite, but lingering chemicals from adhesives and the like are high on my list of suspects too. Maybe there is something not set correctly regarding air flow and changes of air. (Are there any H&V engineers or Chartered Surveyors out there that could answer that?)

Armed with an understanding of why I react so majorly, I can then follow this through on getting a plan to remedy or avoid as appropriate.



9 Replies

  • I had a similar experience. Allergy tests on me were negative. Air conditioning system working within specification. No moulds/fungal spores to be found. The eventual assumption was that I was unduly sensitive to some lingering chemical in the offending area, and it wasn't worth trying to track down which one, as the company could do nothing about it - refurbishing the offending area would just bring in more chemicals and could make the situation worse! The 'reasonable adjustment' under the DDA was to accept I couldn't use those rooms without risk to my health and to schedule meetings elsewhere or allow me to attend virtually (phone/web cam). It would be nice to find the root cause, but may not be possible to find or remedy, so avoidance is probably the best option.

  • Thanks Alison.

    I guess I am ready for this as my resolution too.

    Fortunately, we are set up for virtual meetings too, although you have just made me realise that the webcam option is not currently an available one. I'll have to check how far off this is planned and to apply whatever, if any, influence I have. I believe it may be in a trial somewhere in the organisation. With any luck, I can join in.


  • I have really bad problems with the office I work in.

    Previous workplaces open plan and was fine, this one is small, warm, lots of IT equipment, no ventilation. I've picked up lots of viruses and my chest's got worse and worse, several trips to A&E, now find every time I go in there I get an itchy throat, peak flow dips and asthma becomes generally uncontrollable and sensitive to things I've usually OK with.

    One suspect is the laser printer but not much is being done apart from 'open the window sometimes'. After a long struggle I've got agreement to work elsewhere if someone else has cold/flu but it's been a nasty struggle.

    After being off work for a while my asthma symptoms have settled right down, I'm due to go back soon but not looking forward to putting my health at risk as no, I can't move offices.

    Choice - risk health and well paid permanent job (able to put fire on in this cold weather!) or no job and health - yes I've looked for another but there isn't much about - especially with my now chequered sickness record!!!

    Hope you have more luck than me in resolving this

  • Hi

    Is there such a thing as too much ventilation in an office?

    Well thats what i have got, the brown packing tape round the window frames works a treat until the wind blows from the North and then watch out, its freezing and i have to wear a hat, scarf and gloves, honest. I have a thermometer in my room just for the comedy and wow factor and sometimes my lips are even tinged with blue!

    Anyway i remember about 12 years ago when i worked in Glasgow and the room i shared with one other smoker was nominated as the "" smoking room"" That meant everyone else could come in and smoke and that was accepted by management as a "" good decision""

    I developed a smokers cough after a couple of months and left the room and moved in with a non smoker.

    It seems incredible now to think back to those days and when i am huddled in my office over a warming cup of tea i love to reminisce!


  • Offices and Meeting Rooms

    Alan, sorry to hear that you have been suffering.

    I have troublesome asthma and a couple of years ago, I had a very bad attack because of the cleaning fluids that had been used to clean the carpet in my office. Two cleaning agents had been mixed together when they should not have been - resulting in an ITU admission and a lengthy admission. It might be worth you checking with the building manager to check the cleaning materials used in the offices. Also you might want to check that the Air con is being suitably maintained. I don't tolerate aircon very well even when it is well maintained - have you tried turning off the a/c and just opening a window in the office/meeting room? As the building has been substantially refurbished there should be a Health and Safety file which should document materials used etc. If you have know allergies you could also ask to review the file.

    With meeting rooms, often the rooms tend to be relatively small and the doors closed during the meetings so perhaps there are not sufficient air changes, although this should be regulated by the aircon.

    Air tests can be carried out in the offices to test air quality to make sure that there are no harmful particles in the air - this is not too costly and I would imagine that your employer is or should be concerned about what is happening. You should speak to your line manager and the person responsible for Health and Safety in your workplace.

    Best of luck

  • Thanks, ls.

    I do have air con in my mind as the main offender. In this building, there is an emphasis on energy saving and the air con is, for that reason, I think, on individual timing for each of the 50+ meeting rooms. That means that it has to be switched on specifically from the in-room control. I know that there are no instructions about this in the rooms. My suspicion is that few people are turning these on and that, as you suggest, the air flow is for too low. There has to be some sort of startup time that will allow for this to clear the room before use, but I do not know what that is. It is also rather awkward, and so totally impractical, to go into every meeting room a while before the appointed meeting time, to turn on the air con, or to check the preceding occupier has already done so. If I am right about this, then it is something that can be resolved by adjusting timing controls. Regrettably, there are no opening windows.

    About 9 months ago, I owned up on these pages to not calling for emergency help after my PF dropped dangerously well below 50% of normal. This was after being stuck in one of these rooms for a full 3 days doing a training course. We had found out how to work the controls on Day 1, but I still had major issues then. I stupidly persevered as I had a professional exam to take at the end of the 3 days. I will certainly not be doing that again. Needless to say, I failed the exam (and retake it next month – somewhere else).

    Right now, I am still awaiting news of the RBH appointment. My manager is aware and my plan is pretty much as suggested. I have found some advice from the Health & Safety Executive, mainly aimed at Sick Building Syndrome, but it pretty well covers this situation and sets out some pretty clear courses of action. I do hope the tests show that it is the rooms/building that are at fault and not me. I have to admit to being a bit fed up, since being diagnosed with asthma, of finding more and more things on me that do not work as they should.


  • Alan, I found the aircon at the gym a real problem when I used to go, don't know why but even though I'd drink loads I'd still end up with sore throat and irritated lungs, not sure but maybe it lowers the humidity and that's what we notice.

  • Wow. My referral to RBH is the best thing that has happened to me in an awful long time.

    I was referred there (direct by my GP) for the troubles with the meeting rooms, but also because I had endured a, let’s say, rather up and down year anyway. (Conservative term for difficult.)

    The very first appointment bowled me over, as have the subsequent ones. This is not just an investigation into the specific issues at work, but a full-blown asthma investigation and more. For those of you that know and have commented glowingly about Andy Menzies-Gow, I have to second it all, along with Guy Scadding on the same team. I lost track of time on my first couple of appointments. I think they may both have been an hour long. Andy and Guy were so very thorough.

    I have done so many tests there, even been an inpatient just this week for more. I have even now been referred to Prof Cullinan as well.

    One of the early things that I found out was that I am, surprisingly, not allergic to dust. My drug regime has also changed with some very notable results. I know it’s summer, when I am usually much better, but I am regularly hitting PF over 600 again.

    I am currently managing the meeting room issue, with great support from my colleagues. I ask, and they have all responded wonderfully, for air-conditioning to be turned on in rooms ahead of meetings and a seat held for me near the door so that I can leave quickly and with least disturbance. I also, just as I would for the gym, dose up on Ventolin ahead of the meetings. Many of them have set up dial-in conferences where suitable that I can use if I prefer, or need to change mid-meeting. At first, I was a bit embarrassed having a “Reserved” notice on my seat, but I turned that around to feeling rather special. I am now the envy of my colleagues, particularly at the big meetings, where I always get a good seat.

    We are hoping that the referral to Prof Cullinan will help find solutions to the issues, rather than me just managing them. Watch this space.

    RBH is a local hospital for me (just 20 minutes from home), which makes me rather lucky. However, the thing that really makes me feel very special indeed is the attention I am getting there. I have become a member of the Trust so that I may give something back.


  • Hi

    Glad your getting so much out of your referral, it makes it seem worth it in the end.

    i had probs with air con years ago when i was a bit green the asthma dept.I didn't know why i picked up every chest infection cold and bug that went round. I had so much sick leave i got hauled up in the office and told off. The place i'm at now isn't very up on asthma at all, when i visit people they are not supposed to smoke for at least 1/2 hr before i go in but they do. I also find they spray deodorant/ hairspray/airfreshner or use bleach etc while i'm there. I 've explained to office this is causing me mega probs but nothing done- feel like i'm banging my head against a brick wall. When i have to go to office for meetings i have to be careful of dust and cleaning products, as last time i came home with huge burn marks and peeling skin on elbows that took over a week to heal. When i mentioned to the office they thought i was making a big fuss. But i know alot of us out there have these problems, so i started sending asthma leaflets and the work charter out to the to make them aware of the problem. Maybe Alan this might be something you could do too.

    sj x

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