Have you ever felt drowsiness, headaches, dryness, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin? Fatigue, shortness of breath, hypersensitivity, allergies, sinus congestion, coughing, and sneezing anytime you go indoors? All these symptoms could be signs of bad indoor air quality which is obvious in most of Accra’s skyline workplaces.
According to research conducted by HEDNIC CONSULT, a leading facilities management consultancy firm in Ghana, it is clear that about 60% of office buildings in Accra are suffering from the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), and this continuously reduces productivity, thus affecting an organization’s bottom-line.
In recent times, COVID-19 has caused lots of offices, including BOST and COCOBOD to temporarily shut down. According to recent discoveries from the world health Organisation, COVID-19 is airborne, and poor indoor air quality can aggravate the infections. What is a sick building? What causes it? How does it affect the working population, what is its effect on the spread of COVID-19 and how can we mitigate the losses?
First, according to Sumedha M. Joshi , “a sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in the building”. It reduces work efficiency and increases absenteeism. Most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building. These acute health effects are chiefly as a result of poor indoor air quality in buildings. According to the research we conducted, about 27% of office building occupants are unaware of what indoor air quality is. A further 11% said they have heard the term but are not too sure what it is. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce your risk of indoor health concerns.
Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later. Certain immediate effects are similar to those from colds or other viral diseases, so it is often difficult to determine if the symptoms are a result of exposure to indoor air pollution. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the time and place symptoms occur.
71% of people that took the survey indicated that the symptoms they experience when they get to work diminish when they leave the office building. The research also revealed that about 63% of office building occupants experience headaches when they get to work. 21% said they experience dry and sore throat, 15% claim they experience drowsiness, 40% claim they experience fatigue at work.
Flu symptoms and shortness of breath contributed about 23% of the workplace experience, our survey revealed. While symptoms like fatigue and back pains could be associated with ergonomics and worker fulfillment, indoor air-quality plays a major role in the general well-being of the workplace. Other health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is prudent to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.
Furthermore, the climate conditions in most workplace facilities are generally not conducive for majority of the building occupants. 55% of the survey participants said that their workplaces were too cold. 33% established that odors are present in their offices, 25% said they have seen mold growth in various places at their workplace. These are severe findings as a whopping 85% of the survey participants say they do not report their experience to their employer or building owner.
Also, about 80% said they don’t open their windows at the workplace to allow fresh air or natural ventilation. Proper ventilation allows for indoor air to be diluted with fresh air. This increases oxygen concentrations and reduces airborne pathogens. Indoor air that is concentrated with airborne infectious diseases is one of the most serious threats to human health that can even cause death. Airborne pathogens can be spread by the air system threatening the health of patrons and exposing facility owners to liability risks.
In 1976, the Legionnaires’ Disease killed more than 30 people and about 160 people were bedridden from infectious airborne pathogens that were present indoors at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in America were a major convention was taking place. The HVAC system in the hotel aggravated the spread of the bacteria. Though transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been understood to transmit mainly through large droplets expelled during coughing, sneezing, or talking, reports show that evidence has risen that at least some cases of COVID-19 occur via airborne transmission.
That happens when virus particles contained in smaller droplets don’t settle out within six feet and instead hang in the air and drift on currents. Airborne transmission is thought to have been a factor in the coronavirus’ spread among members of a Washington choir, through an apartment building in Hong Kong, and in a restaurant in Wuhan, China.
Finally, I have been worried about the legal environment regarding IAQ. Ghana not too long ago published a new building code that is supposed to highlight systems that should ensure ventilation requirements based on building type. The Ghana Environmental Protection Agency is directly responsible for regulating indoor air quality practices but it doesn’t seem that work is being done.
Most of Ghana’s national facilities including public gathering spaces like the Accra international conference center and the National Theatre is compromised on air quality due to their poor HVAC systems, and that is a major threat to national health. If we are interested in improving public health and safety as a nation, we need to radically pay attention to indoor air quality as its effects are dire especially amidst COVID-19.