Sick buildings are leading to sick UAE office workers, doctors say

ABU DHABI // The physical surroundings of the workplace could be having a damaging impact on the health of workers. Dozens of office workers are visiting UAE health clinics every month complaining of headaches, sore throats, itchy eyes, breathing difficulties and skin complaints – all symptoms relating to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), a phenomenon affecting […]

ABU DHABI // The physical surroundings of the workplace could be having a damaging impact on the health of workers.

Dozens of office workers are visiting UAE health clinics every month complaining of headaches, sore throats, itchy eyes, breathing difficulties and skin complaints – all symptoms relating to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), a phenomenon affecting office workers.

SBS is often attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors in the working environment, such as poor ventilation and dust, carpet fibres, fungal spores and other airborne particles, and doctors believe employers need to invest in better ventilation systems and air-quality measures to ensure the health of their staff.

“Sick Building Syndrome is very common in the UAE and other fast-growing countries,” said Dr Trilok Chand, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital. “The reason is often poor ventilation in these buildings, while leaks and other water issues can carry bacterial infections such as fungus.”

He sees about a dozen cases related to respiratory symptoms each month, with the problem exacerbated if a patient has underlying lung problems such as asthma. “Such symptoms are common in my clinic,” he said. “Patients explain how they feel better once they are outside their work building.”

Dr Chand points to air pollution, poor ventilation and the circulation of unclean air as common causes of workplace-related illness, which, coupled with a heavy workload, lengthy desk and computer time and stressful environments, make SBS a drain on productivity.

“Employers have to better maintain their air-conditioning ventilation system, increase the air quality and ventilation systems in buildings and increase education and communication among employees,” he said.

SBS is of great relevance to the UAE, believes Dr Lakshmi Chembolli, a specialist in dermatology at Medeor Medical Centre – Al Zeina. “We are all behind closed doors and in a ventilated environment all day,” she said. “We do not have fresh ventilation either at home or at work.

“It is of great importance in the UAE and it requires greater education.

“We need to be aware of it to observe and diagnose these problems, because they have big symptoms.”

The effects of SBS are all the more harmful for being lesser-known.

“People don’t know what the problem is – they cannot relate it to something that is invisible and odourless,” said Dr Chembolli. “We need to have an environmental protection certification for office buildings to certify that the ventilation quality is on par with accepted standards.

“In America and European countries, they have this in place, so we should try to have some guidelines in the UAE as well, because people spend the majority of their life in an office.

“But SBS is not just related to ventilation alone. It is also related to the work atmosphere, the stress, the politics – it is a combination of factors.”

Employees can play their part as well, according to Dr Hossameldin Moustafa Hamza Saad, a specialist in pulmonary medicine at Medeor 24×7 Hospital Abu Dhabi, who said: “Transmission of infectious respiratory diseases from one person to another can be greatly reduced by hand-washing frequently with soap and warm water – one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness.”

He also advises using hand sanitisers if soap and water are unavailable, minimising exposure to sick staff, avoid going to work when ill and covering cough and sneezes with tissues rather than hands.

He also believes that transmission of water-droplet aerosolised pathogens, such as those that cause Legionnaires’ disease, might be reduced by disinfection, in-depth cleaning and special air-handling and ventilation systems.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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