Sick at the thought of work

Sick at the thought of work

Warsaw, 27 March 2023 – 72 per cent of working Poles declare that they perform their duties exclusively at the company’s premises, according to a study by At the same time, according to the OECD, Poles work an average of 1,830 hours per year – a total of more than 76 days of effort. The workplace is therefore a key element affecting our quality of life, including our health. Meanwhile, during the period of increased flu virus activity, this is where we are particularly afraid of being infected. So, especially during the spring solstice, how can appropriately designed office spaces support health and contribute to stimulating wellbeing?

In 1982, the World Health Organisation recognised ‘sick building syndrome’ [read: a syndrome of ailments resulting from being in a particular place] as a problem that threatens human health. More than 40 years later, issues of mental, physical and social wellbeing are one of the strongest impulses behind the development of building technologies, with one in two Poles surveyed expressing a willingness to give up work if their current place of employment had a negative impact on their physical health (New Faces of Work).

The spectrum of factors affecting wellbeing in office spaces is very wide – from the atmosphere and interpersonal relations to the microclimatic conditions and the aesthetics of the premises. On top of this, there is the issue of taking care of one’s own health and that of one’s loved ones. And we get sick frequently. According to the Social Insurance Institution, only due to respiratory infections a total of 34 million days of medical certificates of temporary inability to work were registered in 2022. There is also a large knowledge gap about infectious disease prevention, immune building and healthy lifestyles. This includes protection against bacteria and viruses in the workplace.

Let’s start with the basics – dirty hands disease

The transmission of viruses takes place, among other things, via the droplet route. The spread of infections is also facilitated by poor hygiene habits. For example, for most Poles, hand washing only became routine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, only 30-40 per cent declared regular care for clean hands, which are the carrier of a huge number of pathogens. Meanwhile, according to UNICEF, proper hand hygiene reduces the incidence of acute upper respiratory tract infections by up to 20 per cent.

“In hospital spaces, staff hands have long been a key factor in the spread of infection. Similarly, in the office, university, office, lack of hand hygiene is one of the main factors in the spread of infection. Studies have revealed that as many as 70 per cent of people do not wash their hands after using the toilet, and 95 per cent do not wash their hands properly. According to WHO guidelines, this activity should take about one minute. It is emphasised that 30 seconds is the absolute minimum we should devote to hand hygiene,” explains Tomasz Karauda, internal medicine specialist, doctor at the Pulmonology Clinic of the University Clinical Hospital No. 1 in Łódź.

A mature approach to health is reflected in the way office space is designed and used.

“We are hearing more and more about responsible and conscious use of office spaces. Almost three years after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we are also fed up with social distancing – we want to work like we used to, which is clearly indicated by the popularity of the hybrid model, in which days spent in the office predominate. This is also evident from the condition of the rental market in the capital and regional cities. However, preferences for the quality of the space sought have changed – never before have occupational hygiene and health played such a key role. The focus on these aspects will continue – this trend will be reflected in ever friendlier and safer office buildings,” explains Henryk Bilski, Leasing Director at developer STRABAG Real Estate.

To inhibit microbial transmission as much as possible, the Upper One office building in Warsaw will install self-cleaning doorknobs in the sanitary units of the bicycle locker rooms and toilets in the common areas, and the path from the garage entrance to the tenant space will be fully ‘touchless’.

Breathe easy

The situation doesn’t look much better in terms of what we breathe in. The latest Honeywell Survey report shows that 74 per cent of respondents currently express some level of concern about air quality in the workplace, and more than two in five (43 per cent) of office workers surveyed are very concerned about it. Our health is directly affected by what we breathe, and the indoor air in a standard building is several times more polluted than the air outside and requires a reduction in viruses, mould spores and bacteria, among other things. Hence, solutions that provide automatic cleaning of office spaces are becoming increasingly important for tenants.

“When we are in closed, poorly ventilated rooms, and this is the case during the autumn and winter season, the risk of contracting a viral infection is much higher. All it takes is one cold person we are around for more than 15 minutes at a distance of less than two metres to be at high risk of infection. Air pollution increases the risk of falling ill, acting as a ‘lockpick’ to open the gates for viral infections,” adds Tomasz Karauda.

When thinking about air quality in the office, solutions such as ventilation and air conditioning automatically come to mind, and in their case, proper maintenance is particularly important. Faulty filtering systems are a guarantee of, among other things, the development of microbiological contaminants and, as a consequence, headaches and increased fatigue. Polluted air is also seen as one of the factors in the development of depression (Harvard University).

Therefore, technologies are increasingly being implemented around the world to increase indoor comfort. This type of advanced solution will be implemented in the Upper One complex in Warsaw, scheduled for completion in 2026. A bipolar needle ionisation system will introduce ions into the air stream using ventilation flow. Consequently, this will enable pathogens to be combated and odours and allergens to be neutralised, without producing ozone. The cleaning process will therefore remain completely safe for humans. In addition, adiabatic humidifiers, using a natural cooling mechanism, will be installed to improve the quality of the microclimate. Their task will be to ensure the right level of humidity in the interior, while reducing electricity and water consumption.

“Technologies that promote health and mental wellbeing go hand in hand with care for the environment. Today, every step developers and tenants take is calculated in terms of the carbon footprint they carry – this will not change. Therefore, modern building solutions must be efficient on multiple levels and over a long lifetime. The office market is faced with the challenge of redefining the working environment and providing conditions where comfort and safety for employees are the actual standard,” says Henryk Bilski.