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October 6, 2016

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Sick building syndrome and combating SAD

london-143030_640With the clocks going back at the end of October marking the beginning of winter, business could find that shorter days have a negative impact on morale and lead to a dip in productivity. Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot, explain what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ are and how they can impact your staff.

With the winter slump on its way, facilities management professionals across all sectors should plan ahead now and think of ways to combat this, combining the need to keep the workforce motivated, while maximising outputs and maintaining profitability.

The workforce is one of a business’ most important assets and, generally, happy and comfortable employees make for a successful company. Travelling to work and leaving in the dark can often have a negative effect on workers’ wellbeing. According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, around 21 per cent of people will notice a change in mood and attitude over winter with a further 8 per cent of people needing treatment.

Office managers should make every effort to ensure that the work environment is well-lit. Quality and quantity of light is crucial and, especially when it is dark outside, an abundance of dim or flickering light bulbs can lead to concentration issues, headaches and eye strain brought on by having to focus too intently on documents and screens.

The ideal light source for the office building is natural light. However, due to the time of year and the configuration of many facilities, without fitting extra windows or installing skylights, increasing levels of natural light is often tricky. Adapting desk configuration is one option,  positioning workers nearer windows, or another option is installing full–spectrum or ‘daylight’ bulbs, which aim to produce a quality of light as close to natural daylight as possible. Using bulbs of this type is an especially good option for workplaces with fewer windows, or where employees are undertaking visually-demanding tasks, such as design.

A high-quality light source is necessary for combating the symptoms of SAD, but the winter season also brings another phenomenon to the workplace. ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS) is an unexplained and prolonged illness brought about by spending too much time in a certain environment, often an office or workplace. As a result of ‘cold and flu season,’ SBS is often dismissed and incidences are thought to increase during the winter due to poor ventilation and air quality.

Whilst cold weather brings with it the temptation to crank up the thermostat in the workplace, businesses should be aware of the potential link between hot, stuffy offices and an increase in illness. Encouraging employees to open windows and let in some fresh air, as well as taking a break at lunchtime, can play a large part in increasing productivity and reducing the number of sick days taken during the winter months.

Should investment allow, the integration of an intelligent ‘climate-controlled’ office HVAC system can ensure that the ambient temperature remains at a comfortable level throughout the winter and can adapt to changeable outside weather conditions.

Despite the fact that British winters are normally fairly warm, facilities managers should be prepared in the event of snowy, cold weather and have the correct equipment and procedures in place to ensure workers can move safely around the premises. Positioning grit bins at strategic places around the site and ensuring that key pathways are clear of snow and ice should become a necessary daily task during a cold winter.

Local authority guidelines advise that salt is spread on pathways whenever the temperature dips below 3 degrees Celsius and, under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, premises occupiers owe a legal duty of care to ensure the safety of any visitors they may have. Forward thinking is important here: ordering salt stocks after a cold spell has hit is simply not enough. Resources need to be in place at the start of the season.

Managing the winter workplace is a matter of looking after employees and ensuring the continued smooth running of the business. Creating a comfortable and practical working environment inside the office can boost productivity during short winter days, while efficient management of the exterior guarantees that both employees and visitors have a safe journey to and from the business.

Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing

Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

This free director’s briefing contains:

  • Key points;
  • Recommendations for employers;
  • Case law;
  • Legal duties.
Barbour EHS

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