Sick Building Syndrome: Perhaps The Skyscraper Was Not Modern Enough:
So before he got sick at the office, Edna Mode’s favorite architect Mies Van Der Rohe got beaten to the punch by era-defining skyscraper, “Lever House” in 1952.
The minimalist giant-steel-ice-cube International style went gangbusters and was copied just about everywhere.
Then a few decades later, we all inherited an accidental invention from these sealed curiosities: Sick Building Syndrome.
But today with the advent of the Human Microbiome, safety experts are finding something even more sinister: The Office Micro-Biome…
Yes, the office is making you sick in more ways than one…
Good Intentions Gone Wrong:
So Mies’ idea in the beginning was at-least well-intentioned.
Seal out the environment from the building & remove the risk and complexity of windows.
It’s just that up on the high-level, architects really didn’t foresee things like material-degradation and outgassing of things like formaldehyde, vinylizers, and other chemicals.
So they started fixing that with better ventilation & materials.
It’s Not An Ice-Box, It’s A Petri-Dish:
But today, the 2nd or 3rd wave of environmental safety engineers are finding out there’s more to it than a HEPA filter on a vent.
They really have to police the inputs and outputs of the building just like it were its own kind of human body.
Because people are like the viruses, importing all different kinds of bugs in and out on a daily basis.
-That’s why, even if they don’t have issues with building materials now, some can still become “Sick Offices”, regardless of the SBS denialists.
(btw, just tell those guys you’re going to install Chinese laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators in their homes & see how much SBS they still deny…)
The Plot Thickens:
And the answer, at-least the beginning of it, is simple.
The entire building is just as full of bacteria, fungus, viruses, and various other microbes as you or me.
But it’s not all bad news.
Also very similar to you or me, are the surprising early findings by researchers:
1) Most office materials are pretty inert and don’t fester.
2) Most microbes even in buildings are not harmful.
The only problem occurs is when you have the 1 or 2 that really are a problem.
And it reduced productivity 26.5% everywhere it hit.
Who knows what all the other problems are costing?
More Similarities On Where The Worst Offenders Are Found:
Going over the shorter handout, because the full report currently sells for the low-low price of $70.00,
The main problems occur in 3 places:
1) Air Circulation Systems
2) Anywhere Moisture Collects
3) High-Traffic Human Contact Points
By far #2 seems the worst as far as the abstract goes.
Where Moisture Collects, All Bets Are Off!:
Anywhere there is an excess of standing-moisture there will be the worst molds, bacteria & viruses.
Out of all the disease-vectors, these are the ones mentioned most frequently.
Even the first materials-study stated its results were only applicable to dry conditions.
Continued policing of all plumbing and structural leaks/pooling where the tiniest-source of microbial-infection can explode, is highly emphasized.
Breathe In, Breathe Out:
Though it’s viewed less-risky, because many systems have OK filters,
One of the interesting comments made where the building is like a body,
Is that the Ventilation-System can actually develop harmful biofilms on their surfaces that overcome the filters so-much, they require either cleaning or replacement.
Otherwise: Employees covered in nasty spores.
Common Points Of Contact:
And then of-course, the most obvious point is #3.
But oddly enough, less of a problem than you might think.
Because unless people are actually getting sick, high-traffic points contact might actually be innocuous or even helpful.
Though when that does happen, new cleaning products, or even copper-impregnated touch-surfaces have been recommended.
Manager As Doctor:
The only problem happens when a problemmatic microbe Does take hold in an office.
Although it’s a foreign concept, the manager of any particular office may have to act somewhat like a doctor.
They’ll have to not only get the sick person out of the place, but require a special cleaning of all the surfaces that person is likely to have touched to remove any risks still present.
This is why an entire row, corner, or team of an office can get taken out of action under the current religion of, “Cross your fingers & hope maintenance gets to it.”
How They’ll Do It In The Future
Right now, we don’t have particularly anti-microbial surfaces in any modern office.
And although the risk is lower than a Hospital, some of the solutions bandied-about sound downright idiotic or even dangerous,
-Like incorporating random anti-microbials banned from hand-soaps into things like paint & wall-coverings.
Though things like exotic salt-crystal doorknobs that have been discussed for combatting superbugs in hospitals, a more cost-effective option will need to happen for an office, where you’re not fighting MRSA.
And if cost-effective, microbe-hostile surfaces can be installed in high-traffic points, perhaps praying to the maintenance gods will be unnecessary.
Another idea floated for hospitals that may work in offices is after-hours UV light baths via fixtures or fancy roombas.
Still farther down the road is the CSI of the building:
Though this is discussed as a potential-future, “cheek-swabbing” the building with many fancy docs & consultants and then typing the different microbes at a lab sounds a bit too costly.
The only case where it would make financial-sense is if people kept getting sick because of shoddy maintenance and the diseases became persistent, or even rolling for all the other co-workers.
Yes, it is possible for The Office Itself, and not just the people in it, to catch a cold.
In a big-enough place like the Apple Space Donut, it could just keep cycling indefinitely as a new group gets sick, and a cured-group returns.
Mo’ Tech? Mo’ Money!:
And while it may be simple to send a little drone or camera through halls and vents every 12 months,
Swabbing & lab-testing surfaces in even targeted super-high-traffic areas could get expensive if not done judiciously.
It’s a great set of ideas, but super-low-cost pervasive tech is just not a reality right now.
Would it be great to have an entire office like George Jetson’s house, full of Apple Homekit sensors with electric-eyes that can pick out specific colonies of bad microbes,
-Accompanied by an army of Roombas and Knightscope K3s to roam around & zap the hell out of them with ionic space-lazors?
Will that be cost-effective any time soon?
The Road Ahead & Behind:
Although it’s fantastic to hear entire commissions are taking people’s health so seriously, especially since they spend so much of their lives in an office, (more than 1/3 for most of us)
The reality of all the factors researchers talk about measuring lives in a galaxy far, far away.
And in the other direction, it is nice to know that many of the reported problems come from well-known, well-studied sources that can be presently-policed in familiar ways.
The challenge right now is for empowered-managers to actually care and not only treat the health of their employees,
But also the offices they all work in, just like a human body,
You, Me, & Our Home Away From Home:
To make sure disease is isolated not only by-individual, but their habitat.
And to that end, even a first set of new research-driven tools, tests, & procedures, for both Regular and Outbreak-type situations,
Would be a fantastic first step to make sure that every micro-biome we interact with,
Is just as far away from workplace-induced sickness as the one we try to maintain within ourselves.
PS: Just in-case, don’t Ever touch the floor. -Especially if it’s damp…
JUMP BONUS!: One Of The Chief OMB Researchers Talks Indoor Bugs:
• Source: NAS-Microbiomes Of The Built Environment
• via: TheScientist and Wired
• Source Studies:
NAS-Built Envrionment Microbiome Study Highlights
ASMB-Geography and Location Are the Primary Drivers of Office Microbiome Composition