Businesses are growing rapidly. Thus, office building is of high demand. The idea that building design can influence our health, wellbeing and productivity is not new. In particular, “salaries and benefits typically account for 90% of an organisation’s operating costs, far greater than energy (1%) and even rent (9%)” (Alker 2014). It follows that designing a healthy work environment in the office structure has to be the number one task for the business investment because productivity of the staff is a key to success of any company and the employer respectively. Moreover, media misinterpret and overemphasise different problems related to design versus working environment instead of providing scientific facts about these issues. Since it is proved by researchers that “buildings can maximise benefits for people” (Alker et al. 2014, p. 3), there is a need to increase awareness about possible problems among employers in order to create a balanced working environment for both workers and employers. However, the investment into the most advanced technologies is not the way out. The decision to be made has to be well reasoned and based on the evidence from the theory and practice in the field. Thus, the paper discusses how the design of high-rise office building can affect the health of people.
How does the performance of building effect health?
Foremost, tall buildings are proved to have several advantages in architectural sphere. These include “material saving because of repetitive type plans”, “lower construction costs”, “occupy less land”, and “better use of daylight and thermal mass” (Lotfabadi 2014, p. 286). In contrast, high-rise buildings bring many health-related problems if improperly designed, such as inadequate indoor air quality (IAQ), dampness and mould, toxicological hazards, inner harmful radiations, etc. There is always a challenge for architects facing these issues. For instance, John A. Hoskin (2010) stated that poor indoor air quality can have adverse health effects on people, such as asthma and even increased cancer risk. On the one hand, there may be potentially vertical variations in ambient air pollution concentration. On the other hand, the difference in air quality may be experienced between winter and summer periods because of extreme temperature fluctuations.
Scientific literature shows there is a strong relationship between dampness and mould in buildings, which occur due to flaws in design structure, and associated health impacts. In particular, Mudarri and Fisk (2007, p. 226) found that “the increased risk of health effects in damp or mouldy buildings was appreciable for example much greater than 100% in several cases” and these effects include “symptoms typical of asthma, mucous membrane symptoms, headache, and fatigue” (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL] 2014), to list a few. In addition, the researches confirm that employees working in damp offices have a 30% increase in sick leave (LBNL 2014). Constant exposure to mould can result into “organic dust toxic syndrome, interstitial lung disease, and inhalation fevers” as well as “systemic infections”, “allergic or hypersensitivity reactions” and “irritant/ toxic reactions” (Palaty & Shum 2012, p. 2).
In general, the studies prove that IAQ problems occur because of old or poorly maintained construction: for example, the issue may be caused by degraded asbestos fireproofing or when cooling towers get contaminated from Legionella (Hoskin 2010; Alker et al. 2014). Dampness may be caused by inadequate sub-floor ventilation, poor bricklaying practice, condensation that occurs because of extreme temperature fluctuations, when damp proof courses are omitted or positioned incorrectly, “inadequate slopes on roof cladding, incorrect fixing methods, and insufficient flashing and capping” (Australian Building Inspection Services 2014). These causes are only several in a long list of potential factors causing dampness or mould which, in their turn, impact human health heavily. In this way or another, the above-indicated health-related issues can be linked to flaws in building design, which could have been prevented if the building would have been constructed in a proper manner.
What kind of office equipment do people use in workplace?
Moreover, interior of offices is overloaded with different types of technologies, which not only assist modern employees in performing their duties but can also negatively affect their health. The number of devices increases with relation to the sphere of business operations, including computers, photocopiers, printers, etc. Besides being time-saving in performing work responsibilities, these tools have high energy consumption and release greenhouse gas emissions, which are harmful to both people and environment. In order to minimise these effects, the architects have to be guided by specific certifications when constructing and designing the buildings, such as Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) and ENERGY STAR among others (Scofield 2013, p. 517).
However, there are technological tools that are used in workplaces in order to improve working environment conditions, such as air conditioners. Of course, mould and dampness cannot be eliminated by the use of air conditioners. At the same time, statistics shows that about 92% of employees working in offices waste at least one hour per day because of heat at workplaces, which is an especially great concern for hot climate conditions (Lotfabadi 2014; Hulke et al. 2013). This issue may result into overheat and lowered productivity during summer heat for workers and losses for employers, accounting for ?19.3 million yearly only in the UK (Hulke et al. 2013; Mudarri & Fisk 2007).
In addition, an improperly installed or maintained air conditioner can become a reason of additional health issues, including cough, cold, and even “respiratory disorders in the form of mild airflow obstruction” (Hulke et al. 2013, p. 21). The negative effects also occur when the temperature set in the device and, thus, workplace, is much lower than in other office rooms or outdoor instead of choosing a reasonable temperature level, which should be several degrees lower than in environment. As a result, media label these technologies as potential office health hazards and sometimes workers simply prefer do not turn the air conditioner on (Hulke et al. 2013). However, proper interior design can mitigate such risks by insulation of pipes, shading windows, placing desks away from radiators and windows among available options (Hulke et al. 2013).
How does the harmful radiation effect on health of people in workplace?
Supporting the answer to previous sub-question, it is necessary to state that different technologies and equipment, e.g. mobile phones and Wi-Fi routers, are also believed to be radioactive, to some extent (Mudarri & Fisk 2007; Hulke et al. 2013). At the same time, radiation can be released from materials used for construction and design. For example, the study by Chen, Rahman and Atiya (2010, p. 317) showed that “long-term exposure to radon increases the risk of development of lung cancer”. Despite this material is radioactive, it may be found as an element of building materials that are used for decorative purpose, such as “drywall”, “tile”, and “granite” (Chen, Rahman & Atiya 2010, p. 317). It follows that it is possible to assume that design can be performed with potentially harmful means exposing office workers to radiation. The aforementioned researchers conducted a study to clarify the extent of harm on employees. They claimed that adequate air exchange in such places and use of quality materials are not harmful for human health.
Despite there were no specific studies found, it can be suggested that when radioactive materials are used in offices which are damp and mouldy, their impact will be harmful for people’s health condition.
How does the personal computer effect on health of employees and energy consumption in office building?
Working life of modern employees cannot be imagined without computing devices, but they are important threats to their health. For instance, a research by James and Hopkinson (2009, p. 9) confirmed that this technology incorporates at least 1,000 harmful chemicals. These include “Lead and cadmium in computer circuit boards; Lead oxide and barium in desktop monitors; Mercury in switches and flat screen monitors; and Brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing” (James & Hopkinson 2009, p. 9).
Summarising the findings of the literature review, it is clear that office buildings can be potential health threats to employees and cause sufficient losses to the employers. First, improper or flawed building design and omissions may result into occurrence of dampness and mould. These issues lead to significant impacts on workers’ health condition. Second, technologies used in workplaces and equipping the interior are also the sources of harm. The impact of this factor can be minimised by following the modern standards on green technologies in built environment and smart approach to their usage. Third, radiation based on technology use and building materials is another risk for employees, but keeping up with standards and using quality goods may eliminate this risk as well. Finally, employees have to pay sufficient attention to all these issues in order to ensure that their working environment is safe and, thus, productive.