The office environment is a combination of lighting, temperature, humidity, air quality and decoration. The office can be a healthy and comfortable place to work in if the correct combination of these element is maintained.
In some of the larger offices, workers may experience some ill-health effect which may be due to the office environment (e.g. headaches, lethargy, eye, nose throat problems, stress and etc.) and require competent investigation.
To prevent such ill-health in the office ensure the following issues are addressed.
A comfortable temperature must be maintained. Most people work comfortably at temperature between 20 - 26 degree Celsius. Almost all office in Malaysia use air- conditioning system to maintain the comfortable temperature.
Office temperature can be localised. A desk situated in direct sunlight will be much warmer than the average temperature in the office and a desk situated directly under an air-conditioning vent can be cooler than average. So, additional windows, skylights or glass partitions in offices should not allow excessive temperatures during hot weather.
Refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. The optimum comfort range for elative humidity is 40-60 per cent.
- High humidity, above 80% can be associated with fatigue and report of "stuffiness".
Refers to the movement of the air and rate of fresh air input. Air movement of less than 0.1 meters per second can lead to stuffy rooms whereas above 0.2 meters per second, draughts can be felt.
Ventilation must be adequate. For each person a minimum rate of 10 liters fresh air per second per person for general office space or 10 liters fresh air per second for every 10 square meters of floor space is recommended.
Office should be ventilated either naturally or artificially. For most office opening windows or doors will provide adequate ventilation. Where mechanical ventilation or air-conditioning is provided make sure the system is regularly checked, kept clean and well maintained to prevent a growth of legionella bacteria or other organisms.
Contaminants in the office can include bacteria, viruses, mould spores and dust, solvent vapors, or chemicals generated or used in the building. Air conditioning unit that do not provide adequate amounts of fresh air can cause high levels of carbon dioxide. Stale air due to poor ventilation and excessive heatbuild-up or humidity can also contribute to air contamination. Appropriate control\measures for the reduction of air contamination include;
- Effective air filtration,
- Ensuring that adequate amounts of fresh air enter the building,
- Maintenance of air- conditioning units including regular cleaning,
- Preventing the obstruction of vent,
- Locating equipment using solvents in non-airconditioned area with substantial air movement and/ or installing local exhaust ventilation.
Environment tobacco smoke is an indoor contaminant and there is growing recognition that non-smokers may suffer adverse health effects through inhaling tobacco smoke. Organisations are increasingly expected to limit passive smoking risks in office in the interest of their employees and clients.
A number of employers have fulfilled their legal obligations to provide a safe and healthy work environment by implementing no-smoking policies in their workplaces. Procedures such as consultation, education programs and thallocation of designated smoking areas are recommended for the development of an effective no-smoking policy.
OZONE AND PHOTOCOPIERS
Ozone does not build up in the air. It breaks down into oxygen quickly after it released into the air.
Photocopiers and laser printers produce ozone gas during operation.
Concentration of ozone produce by that machine should, at any time not exceed 0.1 ppm.
At concentration above 0.1 ppm, ozone can cause eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, headache and temporary loss of the ability to smell.
Normally the modern photocopiers and laser printers fitted with an ozone filter do not present any hazard to health, provided they are properly maintained.
It is recommended that photocopiers are not placed on or in close proximity to the personal workstations of office workers because of possible discomfort from the heat, light and noise generated during the photocopying process.
Always put the cover down when using a photocopier. The fluorescent, metal halide, or quartz exposure lamps used in photocopiers can irritate the eye if viewed directly.
Dust from the toners (containing carbon black) should be less than 3.5 mg per cubic metre of air. It is possible, however, if toner dust is breathed in directly, that it could irritate the respiratory tract.
To keep ozone and dust containing carbon black levels well below acceptable limits;
- Have photocopiers regularly serviced,
- Ensure that an ozone filter is fitted to photocopiers and laser printers,
- Ensure that there is adequate ventilation.
SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
The incidence of illness is significantly higher in some buildings than in others. The symptoms that characterise "sick building syndrome" are sore eye, running nose, headaches, mucous membrane irritation, dry skin, dizziness and nausea.
No single, specific cause has been found. It is believed that the syndrome is caused by a combination of poorly adjusted ventilation, air-conditioning, temperature, humidity and lighting and psychological factors such as stress, management style and tedious work schedules.
Using the solutions to each individual aspect of the office environment offered in this guide may help in alleviating the symptoms that characterise sick building syndrome.
Adequate lighting must be provided. Where possible offices should have natural lighting. When artificial lighting is used it should be sufficient so as to avoid visual fatigue and prevent glare or reflection into the workers eyes. The basic requirement for adequate lighting are that the work must be easy to see and the light comfortable to the eyes. Illumination is measure in units of LUX (Lumens per square metre).
Suitable light levels based on Malaysia Standard for interior lighting (see COP for Interior Lighting) are
- General background 200 Lux
- Routine Office work 400 Lux
- Work with poor contrast (Proof reading) 600 Lux
Sharp differences in illumination between adjacent area should be avoided.
Ideally the surrounding area should be slightly lower in luminous background.
Light should fall from the side rather than from the front to avoid reflections on the work surfaces.
Glare causes visual discomfort and is usually caused by light sources which are too bright or inadequately shielded.
Light deteriorate with age and accumulate dirt over the surface. It is advisable to ensure that lights are cleaned at regular intervals, at least every 6-12 months. Fluorescent light flicker indicates either the tube or starter needs replacing.
Colour determine the level of reflectance as follows;
- White reflects 75% or more of light.
- Light colours 50% - 75% (subdued cool colours)
- Medium colours 20% - 50% (bright warm colours)
- Dark colours 20% or less
White or off-white is recommended for ceiling as they should reflect greater than 80% of light. Walls should have a reflectance between 50-70 per cent have a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Wall near windows should be light in colour whereas those away from windows should be medium coloured below eye level. Floor should be reflect less than 20% of light and therefore should be dark coloured. The use of colourful posters and pictures relieves the monotony of the surroundings and also provides relief from eye strain.
OFFICE FLOOR SPACE
Workstations should be comfortable with safe and suitable chairs and sufficient space.
A good rule of thumb for personal space is to allocate 6.25 square meters per individual workstation, including furniture and fitting, but excluding passageways and amenities.
Welfare facilities like eating facilities, sanitary facilities, washbasins etc. should be available. Ensure adequate facilities for boiling water and taking meals are provided for office employees or ensure they have reasonable access to these facilities.
Provided enough toilets for employees and keep them clean and in good order. For washing, provide running water, soap and towels or other means of drying. The minimum toilets facilities are given in table 1 below. A wholesome supply of drinking water should also be provided.
Sanitary facilities should be kept clean and well ventilated. They must not exit into a work-room except through the open air or intervening ventilated space.
The facilities must be located as near as possible to the office.
Where there are no separate facilities provided for the public, the number of conveniences specified above should be increased as necessary to ensure that workers can use the facilities without undue delay.
One washbasin must be provided for every 20 employees up to 100 employees and one for every 40 employees, or part thereof, after that.
Number of people at work
Number of water closets
1 to 5
6 to 25
26 to 50
51 to 75
76 to 100
The standard of cleanliness required will depend on the use to which the office is put. Floors and indoor traffic routes should be cleaned at least once per week. Any waste material that accumulates should be removed on a daily basis.
Interior walls, ceiling, windows and work surfaces should be cleaned at suitable intervals, so as to maintain an appropriate hygiene standard. Ensure contract office cleaners are given the same health and safety protection as regular office workers.
Source: Guidelines On Occupational Safety And Health In The Office