Enhancing the resilience of buildings for the well-being of their occupants

How do you explain uneasiness, physical discomfort, or even severe illnesses in occupants of a building, without clearly discernible reasons? Sick building syndrome, recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) since the 1970s, is the manifestation of psychological and medical conditions directly associated with a building. The CSTB performed work on this complex phenomenon using a multicriteria approach to promote the restoration of the well-being and health of occupants and improve quality of life. In 2016, researchers investigated a dance center in the Paris Region.

Diagnosing the syndrome

For several years, the teachers and students of an artistic facility have been experiencing physical disorders—excessive fatigue, breathing problems, headaches, malaise, ear, nose and throat problems, and others—sometimes evolving into psychological disorders, including uneasiness and depression, despite major work on the building. The perception of persistent discomfort among users intensified their ill-being: inadequate size and run-down state of dance studios, lack of natural light, unpleasant odors, feeling of being cramped, etc. In addition, patronage has increased in recent years, exacerbating the ailments and discomfort. These elements are typical of sick building syndrome (SBM).

Focus on multicriteria analysis

Based on its research, the CSTB considers two aspects, environmental and psychosocial, in determining the factors that explain this phenomenon. Specifically, this involves combining assessment of the level of containment of air, the study air quality, and analysis of complaints reported by occupants.

Sensors installed in the dance center measured airflow. In addition, about fifty interviews were conducted with volunteers to assess their perceptions of the situation and identify solutions for its management.

Offering solutions

At the end of the investigations, all the information collected confirmed sick building syndrome demonstrated by the impacts on physical health and the discomfort experienced. Environmental factors came to light, explaining the emergence of the problem. Approaches to solving the problem determined the psychological effects observed.

The CSTB proposals aim to:

  • Improve the quality of the environment—thermal, physical, chemical, olfactory, visual—and optimize the performance of the air handling system;
  • Ensure that the building matches its intended use, which is dance training; and
  • Focus on social interaction and relations, considering their importance in a stressful situation, communicating decisions, setting up a committee including the complainants in the decision-making process, and creating rest areas.

The CSTB concluded that these technical and organizational improvements would be required, otherwise the activities would have to be moved to another site.

Scientific publications of the CSTB:

  • Marchand D., Laffitte J.D., Weiss K., Ramalho O., Chaventré F. et Collignan B. (2017): « L'incertitude, un facteur explicatif de l'évolution des crises environnementales ». In: Bulletin de psychologie. Le rôle de l'incertitude dans la construction sociale des problématiques environnementales. In Press, Paris
  • Marchand, D., Weiss, K. & Zouhri, B. (2016): "Emerging risks and quality of life: towards new dimensions of well-being?" In: Fleury-Bahi, Navarro & Pol, Handbook of environmental psychology and QOL research. Springer. P. 531 543
  • Marchand D., Depeau S. et Weiss K. (2014): L'individu au risque de l'environnement. InPress, Paris
  • Marchand D., Brisson G. et Plante S. (2014): « L'apport des sciences sociales à la gestion du risque sanitaire environnemental ». In: D. Marchand, S. Depeau K. Weiss (eds), L'individu au risque de l'environnement. Chap.7, p.197-228. In Press, Paris
  • Marchand D., Weiss K., Ramalho O., Chaventré F. et Collignan B. (2013): « Le bien-être face aux incertitudes environnementales ? ». In: APPA – Revue Pollution Atmosphérique; n°219. Octobre 2013
  • Marchand D., Chaventré F., Ramalho O., Laffitte J.D., Collignan B., Weiss K. (2013): « De l'évaluation du risque à la gestion de la crise : le cas du syndrome des bâtiments malsains ». In: Environnement Risque et Santé, 2013 ; 12: 325-9. doi: 10.1684/ers.2013.0632
  • Demillac R., Kermarec F., Esvan M. et Marchand D. (2012) : « Prise en charge interdisciplinaire d'un syndrome collectif inexpliqué dans une école du centre-ville de Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine) ». In : BEH, n°48, décembre 2012, p 552-555

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