Doctors in the United Arab Emirates are warning that the environment of workplaces could be damaging workers’ health after seeing a rise in the number of cases related to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Office workers visit clinics every month, complaining of headaches, sore throats, itchy eyes, breathing difficulties and skin complaints; symptoms related to SBS.
SBS is attributed to unhealthy or stressful factors – such as poor ventilation and dust, fungal spores, and other airborne particles – at workplaces.
Dr Trilok Chand, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, told Al Arabiya English that Sick Building Syndrome is when a person experiences adverse health effects due to the indoor air quality in offices, homes, and school buildings.
“Sick Building Syndrome is caused by poor air quality due to poor ventilation, dust, carpet fibers, and fungal spores,” he explained. “Indoor air quality is also affected by outdoor air quality due to factors like pollution or sandstorms that happen in the summer. Ultimately, air flow in the buildings comes from the outside. In the winter season, poor ventilation and crowding can also cause infections.”
Due to poor air quality, patients across the UAE can complain of respiratory symptoms as well as skin and eye allergies. Respiratory symptoms include dyspnea, cough, throat pain, sneezing, insomnia, and headache.
“We see patients with Sick Building Syndrome,” he said. “Recently we encountered some teachers who experienced these symptoms due to poor ventilation when the schools reopened.”
“Patients with Sick Building Syndrome sometimes have existing symptoms like asthma and COPD,” in reference to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Due to poor air quality, respiratory symptoms can worsen. In these patients, problems like bronchitis, respiratory infections, pneumonia, and allergic symptoms, including skin and eye allergies, can also occur.”
While these problems are not often seen in many of the UAE’s new buildings, they can be seen in people living or working in older premises.
“The health authorities are so vigilant here that they regularly keep eyes on spurts of unusual symptoms due to poor air quality and condition of offices and residences,” said Dr Chand.
“However, employers have a shared responsibility to provide clean air in the workspace. The offices should be clean, and the carpet area should be minimized. The ventilation system should be checked from time to time and thoroughly cleaned by an expert AC maintenance team.”
“If you want to improve indoor air quality and avoid Sick Building Syndrome, you can install good quality and efficient air purifiers that can trap dust particles, viruses and fumes and improve the air quality. Another action that could be taken is prohibiting smoking in office areas. Smoking is a man-made pollution in the workspace that can affect employees working in the same place.”
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