Sick Building Syndrome: Victims taken lightly

02 Jan 2022 10:47am
Poor maintenance of air condition system is a major contributor to SBS. (Source: 123rf)
Poor maintenance of air condition system is a major contributor to SBS. (Source: 123rf)

Often at times, victims of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) find it hard to even breathe as feelings of nausea and dizziness appears. They would typically take a few minutes to calm down or head out of the building to clear their heads.

The unlucky ones, however, would suffer from random asthma attacks or continuous irritation at the nose and eyes as allergies become inflamed.

Not many suffer from this. Experts stated that it does not affect everyone as it depends on the person’s immune system and metabolism rate thus why some in the same building experience no symptoms at all.

Local university lecturer Md Nadzari Mohd Jalil from Shah Alam said he has been having symptoms of SBS ever since he started working at the office again.

“For the past 25 years working in this office, suddenly now, I’m at a stage where I just don’t feel too good.

“There was one time when I used to have eye pain and sore throat every time I came to work in the office but would be fine after using eye drops or when I got out of the building.

“It is likely due to the lack of maintenance for the air condition system that has been neglected for the past two years or so due to the pandemic.

“Prior to this, the system was good and maintained regularly,” he said, adding that he would spend eight hours on an average inside the office on weekdays.

Md Nadzari said employers, building owners or building management needs to take proactive measures to address SBS as required by the law.

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Employers, he said, should not merely rely on work from home practices as it may not be suitable for everyone.

He added that work spaces were designed to function as a place to do work thus should not be taken lightly.

He highlighted that some industries did not have the luxury to work from home and needed to be on site.

However, Md Nadzari said it was difficult for employees to prove that the environmental conditions in the workplace were caused by this syndrome.

Marketing executive, who only wanted to be known as Adele, meanwhile said she has taken numerous measures to protect herself from SBS at the workplace.

“Often times, when I am at work, I find it hard to breathe because of the reduced temperature ventilated by the air conditioning system.

“I get super paranoid when I go to office to the point that I purposely sit somewhere else that allows me to open the window,” she told Sinar Daily.

The 30-year old said her office had a poor ventilation system and unsuitable lighting inside which could possibly be the reason for her SBS’s symptoms.

She stated that most offices in the country adhere to closed environments and were equipped with air conditioners which could affect the productivity of the employees working inside the building.

“If you go to offices in the country, they usually have one type of lighting that has the same temperature (usually white) and intensity but many people failed to realise that this actually strains our body while we're working,” she said.

At home, Adele said she uses a smart lighting system that allows her to adjust the lighting from her mobile device.

She said this allows her to change the colour of the lights according to her needs.

This device, she said, made her realise that correct and proper lighting conditions for employees makes them more productive and prevent various illneses including SBS.

She said as victim of SBS, many were unaware about the illness while others underestimated the severity of its affects.

“If I were to raise the issue of SBS which I have experienced myself, people might not take it seriously because they’d say that other people working in the same building are fine,” she said.

Science student from a local university, Nur Azura Ishak, 25, shared her experience of SBS a few months back.

She admitted that she spent a lot of her time in the laboratory to use science equipments and carrying out well-defined scientific procedures.

Soon after that, she said she started developing the symptoms.

“There were a few times when I was inside the university laboratory from morning to evening doing work. Then I felt lethargic and my whole body felt sore while I was inside the building.

“Once, I even had a fever when I was working inside the laboratory but was fine soon after I left for home. Every time the air condition is on, which is basically all the time, I will feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Meanwhile, married senior civil servants who only wanted to be known as Raha and Rustam shared their experience of SBS.

Raha said her asthma only got worse every time she came to work in the office.

“I have asthma and my condition worsen when I step inside the office to work. It was so bad I had to carry breathing aids at all times whenever I’m in the office,” she said.

Rustam speaks about his discomfort about working in an office with unsuitable items placed in his work space.

“I’m already in my 50s. I have to request for the old carpet inside the office to be removed since it made me sick often due to my dust allergies but it was not entertained.

“They took my request lightly,” he said.

Both of them said they just continued working as usual as they could do much about the office environment as they were not taken seriously.

Rustam said he just tries to work through his allergies throughout the day.