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  • Writer's pictureArcht. Ilmi Dissanayake

Sick and Tired of Working? This could be Why

Did you know that buildings can make you sick?

If they are poorly designed, buildings can make you sick. This is identified as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ or SBS.

According to the WHO, the symptoms are:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue, and irritability

  • Dry cough

  • Skin dryness and irritation

  • Asthma and asthma-like symptoms such as chest tightness and wheezing

  • Difficulty in concentration

  • Allergies

  • Cold

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Personality changes

and many more.

So obviously, if an office is a sick building, it decreases the productivity and increases absenteeism of the workers.

If you have these symptoms, it could be related to an actual sickness of your body.

But, have you been experiencing these symptoms only when you go inside a building, maybe an office? Or that they re-appear after medication?

If so, the reason could be that the building is making you sick.

It is also known that if you are a more sensitive person, the health effects of SBS can be long term.

What are the causes?

1. Poor Air Quality

Air inside an office can be contaminated due to many reasons.

I. Outdoor Sources

  • Pollutants from building exhausts (like bathrooms and kitchens)

  • Ultra Fine Particles from motor vehicle smoke

  • Combustion by products from garages

  • Dust

can enter the building if the vents are not properly located.

II. Indoor Sources

The most common indoor contaminant is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

They can come from:

  • Adhesives

  • Carpeting

  • Copy machines

  • Manufactured wood products

  • Pesticides

  • Cleaning agents

  • Particulate matter

  • Combustion by-products from stove, fireplace

  • Synthetic fragrances in personal care products

III. Biological Contaminants

They can come from,

  • Pollen

  • Bacteria

  • Viruses

  • most of the time from fungus and moulds.

These contaminants can breed inside a building if water management is not properly done.

Leaks, and stagnate water in humidifiers, drainpipes, and ducts are examples of poor water management. Water collected on ceiling tiles, insulation, carpets and upholstery can create unhealthy environments. So, proper building maintenance is also important.

2. Having not enough ventilation is the most critical reason behind SBS.

This can exaggerate small issues to be serious air quality problems. Imagine walking into an office with all these contaminants. Spaces are crowded with people. To make things worse, it has the air conditioning system to circulate the contaminants throughout the building.

What if the building is not ventilated enough to bring in fresh air?

Just think about it. Air is one of the primary necessities for life. Breathing brings oxygen to every single cell of your body. This is how you get energy for all your living processes.

So imagine, what would happen when you breath contaminants along with air.

Every single breath you take is contaminating your body.

So there's no wonder you get all these sicknesses.

Can you imagine the damage it could do to your body over months, years and decades?

3. Artificial Electromagnetic Fields

Electronic appliances like microwaves, TVs and computers create an artificial electromagnetic field which is harmful to the body. Extensive wiring without proper grounding also creates high magnetic fields. Unfortunately, this has also been linked to cancer.

4. Poor and inappropriate lighting with absence of sunlight

Our wellbeing is influenced by 24-hour rhythms called circadian rhythms. They control our sleep, alertness, performance, stress and body temperature. The buildings we live in, directly influence them.

The critical factor in taking care of your circadian rhythms is the daily and seasonal variation of light. Just knowing the sun is rising or is it raining or cloudy outside, can bring you more wellbeing.

Imagine what happens if your workplace completely isolates you from outside natural environment? Even without the sight of sunlight? It may sound so simple but, this simple fact can threaten your wellbeing.

5. Bad acoustics

Are you are exposed to noises from outside? Isn't your office interior properly designed to reduce the noise levels? If so, it can affect on your health, Mood and concentration.

6. Poor ergonomics

Ergonomics means the designing and arranging the workplace, products and systems so that they fit the people who use them. For example, it ensures you can comfortably sit on your chair and the angle of your computer is not straining your neck.

If not properly designed, it can decrease efficiency, productivity and comfort.

7. Psychological factors

Apart from the building design, there are psychological factors linked with SBS. Excessive work stress or dissatisfaction, and poor communication can also lead to SBS.

Sick Building Syndrome is not only confined to office buildings. It can be found in any poorly designed building, even your home.

How can you control it?

There is no temporary solution for an existing sick building. The building has to be properly inspected to identify the issues. Then an Architect can alter the building design, to make it more comfortable for the occupants.

Ideally a building needs to be properly designed by an Architect to avoid SBS.

This will result in workers being happy and productive. So ultimately it impacts on the performance of a company.


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