“Kenya doctors end strike after deal with government”, one Aljazeera headline read.

“Doctors in Kenya end three-month strike”, read Reuters.

A day before this, “Suffering of patients to end as doctors say deal close” our local dailiesl.

Kenyan doctors march during a strike to demand fulfilment of a 2013 agreement between their union and the government that would raise their pay and improve working conditions in Nairobi
Doctors in Kenya Taking to the Streets in Protest

It’s been a long journey as a country and as a Kenyan, it’s a sigh of relief. Our days ahead could actually be healthier, building the nation. The gist of these headlines is actually in the content of the writing, whereby the remedy with which the government used as treatment to this growing tumor in the health sector: something called a Return To Work Formula. My definition of a return to work formula? This is an ingenious concoction invented by bureaucrats in society that gives directive to parties involved in a certain conflict, to resolve their matters amicably and coexist in the same environment mutually.  Its in this respect that even the environment we return to work in on a daily basis, we must coexist with it to ensure we remain healthy working in them.

Before The African Engineer dives into the juices that drew inspiration from these scenario of the Doctors’ strike to blog this, I’ll leave you with an oxymoron to ponder about and by the end of your viewing my beloved reader, you will have a clearer perspective of what the anecdote is all about:

Its better to have work about life rather than having life about work.

From the bed and room you sleep in at night, to the place of work you report to, one thing in common is that there’s a built environment around you, which must be maintained under certain standards to create the habitable and productive environment around you.

The other thing I’ll leave you with is my own headline, so to speak:

“Do you know your building is sick?”

Sick Building Syndrome

Yes! Your building could be causing you to have what is known as Sick Building Syndrome or SBS in short. It is defined as is a phenomenon affecting building occupants who claim to experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but where no specific illness or cause can be identified. SBS is also used interchangeably with “building-related symptoms”, which orients the name of the condition around patients rather than a “sick” building.

Although Sick building syndrome is highly controversial, many people and some clinicians believe there is a disease “syndrome” related to buildings and their internal environment, especially the indoor air quality, many other clinicians and medical organizations say there is no convincing clinical evidence that such a medical syndrome exists. The controversy exists because a number of people have a galaxy of nonspecific symptoms that have no proven cause, yet believe they occur from sources inside building(s).

The main symptoms associated with Sick Building Syndrome are:

  • dry or itchy skin or skin rash;
  • dry or itchy eyes, nose or throat;
  • headaches, lethargy, irritability, or poor concentration.
  • stuffy or runny nose;
Poorly planned office organization
Poorly planned office organization

The symptoms are often mild and do not appear to cause any lasting damage. To those suffering, however, they are not trivial and can cause considerable distress. In severe cases, they can affect attitudes to work and may represent a significant cost to business in the form of:

  • reduced work efficiency;
  • increased absenteeism and staff turnover;
  • extended breaks and reduced overtime;
  • lost time complaining and dealing with complaints

Despite extensive research we do not know the cause of Sick Building Syndrome. However, we do know that it is likely to be due to a combination of factors, the relative importance of which will be different in each case. Broadly, these factors fall into two categories:

Physical or environmental factors – covering physical conditions, e.g.

  • ventilation,
  • cleaning and maintenance, and
  • workstation layout;
Poorly designed workstation
Poorly designed and Maintained Workstation

Job factors – such as the variety and interest of particular jobs and people’s ability to control certain aspects of their work and working environment.

The following list gives more detail on these factors:

Building and office design

  • Deep plan or open plan offices of more than about ten workstations
  • Large areas of soft furnishing, open shelving and filing
  • New furniture, carpets and painted surfaces

Building services and maintenance

  • Air conditioning
  • Lighting (particularly the type and positioning which cause high glare and flicker)
  • Low level of user control over ventilation, heating and lighting
  • Poor design and maintenance of building services
  • Poor standards of general repair
  • Insufficient or badly organized office cleaning services

Indoor environment and air quality

  • High temperature or excessive variations in temperature during the day
  • Very low or high humidity
  • Chemical pollutants, e.g. tobacco smoke, ozone, volatile organic compounds from building materials and furnishings
  • Dust particles and fibres in the atmosphere

Job factors

  • Routine clerical work
  • Work with display screen equipment

Many of these factors are interrelated. For example, badly designed and poorly maintained air conditioning systems can create problems with ventilation and with temperature and humidity control.

It is important to realize that not all of the risk factors occur in each case; nor do symptoms necessarily follow where the factors are present. Factors probably combine in different ways in particular cases to create the kind of environment and working arrangements in which Sick Building Syndrome occurs.

Now that we have known what to check for when diagnosing your building, we’ll get to know how to “immunize” your building or/and subjecting it to various check-ups in various systems of the building in my next post. Living in building structures that have no health implication on us, improve our well-being and increase our productivity in the built environment can improve on some aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It will be ensuring that, the “building health professionals” and the mass population, in collaboration, do indeed return to work and stay at work.

Keep following…!

Today in Engineering History: In 28th March 1819, a British civil engineer was born. He designed the main drainage system for London. As an engineer, he built some major bridges in London, but his greatest accomplishment was to solve a growing problem with sewage pollution in the Thames River. By the mid-1800s, so many Londoners were using the new “water closets” that the river was horribly polluted with sewage. The “Great Stink” crisis escalated with cholera outbreaks. Bazalgette was chosen to design and build London’s sewer system, a 20-year project. Some of his ideas still influence urban engineering today.


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