On my mind this Wednesday is a matter related to health and wellness.
I’ve chosen to touch on this topic in an effort to build public awareness and nudge all of us to reassess our spaces.
I had plan to speak on this matter Tuesday morning. But rightfully so, we addressed what was on the minds of alot of Jamaicans, the brutal murder of Constable Damien Blair.
But in relation to the health topic on my mind, it was most interesting that I had prepared this topic for Tuesday morning and in the afternoon, I heard the very same issue being raised at the Police Federation’s conference in Trelawny.
Here’s what Detective Sergeant Folks said about the Narcotics Division Headquarters on Spanish Town road.
The National Security Minister, Dr. Horace Chang in response has committed to personally visiting the location within the next four weeks.
But with that as my run up this morning, I’ll ask this question….
Have you ever been in a space and when you’re there you feel sick?
You’re nauseous, sneezing, you’ve got watery eyes, constant headaches and itchy skin for example…
But then after you leave this space, your symptoms go away.
That building might be sick and it’s causing you to get sick.
I learn’t of the term Sick Building Syndrome while I was engaged in a Medical Association of Jamaica, MAJ,Twitter space last week that was carried on Nationwide’s platform.
Before then I didn’t know that building sickness had been established as something that was studied.
But according to the The National Health Service, NHS, in the United Kingdom, Sick Building Syndrome is the name for symptoms you get while you’re in a particular building.
It usually happens in an office, but you can get it in any building.
The NHS says symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome get worse the longer you’re in a particular building and get better after you leave.
It says possible symptoms include headaches, blocked or runny nose, dry, itchy skin, dry, sore eyes or throat, cough or wheezing, rashes, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
The Cornwall Regional hospital in St. James was a sick building.
According to the investigations that were carried out by the occupational health and safety officers with assistance from the National Public Health Laboratory Environmental Engineer, Cornwall Regional was sick because it had-
Poor ventilation, improper ventilation systems, the presence of pathogenic organisms, odour nuisances, the presence of volatile organic compounds, faulty sewage/plumbing, improper chemical storage and handling, untrained staff/poor worker hygiene and inconsistent servicing and maintenance of equipment.
While Cornwall regional is arguably the biggest sick building case in Jamaica in recent years, we’ve heard of other cases where workers have had to leave buildings before because of poor air quality conditions.
Back in 2016, a Ministry building had to be closed due to air quality concerns, and in 2019, a Tax Office in Kingston had to be evacuated due to air quality issues.
These are cases that were reported on, but there could be so many more buildings out there that are considered sick but have not yet been diagnosed.
So firstly this morning I’d implore people to consciously pay attention to when you’re having a flare up of illness.
If it keeps happening every time you’re in a particular space for an extended period then that building might be sick and contributing to why you’re feeling unwell.
It’s important to make your own assessment too of certain tell signs in that space.
For example – Is the air conditioning serviced often? Are you seeing signs of mould in the space? Is there proper ventilation throughout the building? Has the building become a master collector of dust or is regular cleaning done?
A failure to maintain these things AND more could lead to a sick building and result in the source of your discomfort.
The sick building could also be your home too. So ensure you do a thorough check of your property.
A simple search of the word Asbestos in Jamaica will populate your results with numerous examples of instances where it was found in hospitals, the rooves of schools and homes among other places.
The hazardous lung cancer-causing material is a common sign of a sick building and requires specialists to remove it.
Now, would be a good time to check your buildings to ensure you’re not being exposed to Asbestos fibres.
Associate Professor in Occupational Health, Dr Alverston Bailey in a column noted that persons could end up with Building related illnesses, BRIs.
And these he says are clinically defined illnesses of known cause.
In this regard, asbestosis could be used as an example and is the result of continuous exposure to asbestos fibres that can cause asbestosis.
Asbestosis is a condition where an accumulation of the fibres leads to scarring of lung tissue and shortness of breath, or mesothelioma – a rare form of cancer.
So this is a nudge to assess the spaces where you spend most of your time to ensure it’s a healthy building.
Dr. Bailey describes a healthy building as one that has an absence of pathogens, absence of biotic, chemical or physical pollutants, thermal comfort, lighting comfort, acoustic comfort, sufficient space, privacy, peace and quiet.
He says it also has a low risk for negative health effects, makes healthy behaviour self evident, compensates for disease or infirmity, stimulates users to realise their ambitions and leaves users the master of the situation.
In other words, the building shouldn’t feel tight, snuffy or uncomfortable.
My penultimate point, it is hoped that the authorities who inspect public buildings are doing these on a timely manner to ensure that they meet all the standards to include being a healthy space.
By all indication, checks on the health of a building and if operators are adhering to health and safety protocols seems to be conducted by public health inspectors.
Finally, GO OUTSIDE.
The benefits are plenty.
McLaren Health Care based in the United States notes that being outside improves your mood and focus, lowers stress and blood pressure, supports health aging, helps healing and boosts your immune system.
Whether it be a sick building or not, sometimes being inside for an extended period can be a factor causing you to be low on energy or unwell.
A change of scenery and some fresh air is often the small thing you needed.
Many of us are operating in high stress environments daily but balance is important.
So check your spaces to ensure they are conducive for a healthier you and spend some time under a mango tree more often.
NOTE- Asbestos is a mineral fibre commonly used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
Medical authorities have repeatedly warned that the inhaling of small particles of asbestos can lead to lung cancer.