Architects train to be aware of health and safety risks because no-one wants to build an unsafe building that causes death and injury rather than providing a safe and comfortable place to live and work.
But how much attention does an architect pay to the health and safety risks of being an architect?
What are the hazards of being an architect, and what can you do to stay healthy and safe?
Architect Health Risks
Health risks facing architects include:
- Working long hours (and why they do so).
- Dealing with demanding clients.
- Project management stresses.
- Sitting at a desk and working at a computer.
- Running a business.
These are like many other job roles, but they still impact on an architect’s health because of the consequences of this lifestyle:
- Excess weight.
- Lack of exercise.
- Lack of sleep.
- Poor diet.
- Lack of social bonds.
- Physical and mental fatigue.
These health risks of being an architect will damage your quality of life. The impact starts at a low level until it builds up to a breaking point, and you end up with a chronic health condition.
Your actions and inaction always give you predictable results.
1. Excess Body Weight
If you consume more calories than you expend on moving around and living your life, then your body stores the excess in case of a rainy day.
You fill up your reserve tank with fat, and you cart it around with you until one day you look in the mirror and wonder how you got into this position.
Well, like eating an elephant, you got here one bite at a time.
Excess poundage is one of the most significant factors in poor health with:
- Heart attacks
- Sleep apnea
These are just some of the risks with carrying extra weight. Your excess body mass creates additional problems in everyday life – shortness of breath, needing oversized chairs, and a lack of mobility.
The architect’s lifestyle of spending long hours in an office environment is a factor in gaining extra weight through not paying attention to diet and missing out on exercise opportunities.
2. Lack of Physical Movement
You have one body, and you can only do one thing with it at a time.
Plus, you only have a finite amount of time in any day, and if you spend it in the office staring at a computer screen creating designs, then you can’t be in the gym or going for a walk in the park.
Working long hours in an office restricts your opportunities for physical movement and burning off calories.
When you have minimal or no exercise during your working day, your consequences are:
- Loss of muscle strength.
- Lack of stamina.
- Low energy levels.
- Loss of mental sharpness.
Regular physical exercise pumps oxygenated blood around your body, releases happy hormones, and keeps your mind sharp as well as toning your body.
Displacing physical movement from your day with increased sedentary working hours deprives you of the associated health benefits.
Plus, it contributes to excess weight gain.
A lack of sleep, poor diet, and low physical activity contribute to mental and physical tiredness when you drag yourself through the day.
Being tired is a killer – drive tired, and you don’t see that stop sign. A tired body picks up infections and succumbs to illness, trips, and falls.
If you had no stress, you’d be comatose. Some pressure is necessary – it gives that push to achieve your goals and solve that problem.
The stress response evolves from a more physical (flight or fight) time, and your brain responds to stress by flooding your body with chemicals to get it ready for action.
Unfortunately, if, as an architect, you spend your day dealing with demanding clients, unhelpful officials, and looming deadlines, you are permanently revving your body for action.
The result is a load of stress-related health risks (like high blood pressure) and potential burn out when something needs to break.
Spending long hours in your office results in less time spent on building your social bonds with family and friends – this adds to your stress load and removes your support and relaxation system.
Safety Risks to Architects
Most places you visit (office, construction sites, suppliers) have a health and safety risk assessment and procedures in place.
Naturally, you avoid trip hazards and wear a hard hat on-site, but are there any particular safety risks from being an architect?
1. Site Safety with First-time Private Clients
Working with an individual or a small business is not the same as visiting a construction site building several homes.
First, there is an initial meeting with the client at their proposed site. Meeting a stranger in an unknown location always carries an element of risk.
This risk is slight, but it is still a risk of physical harm.
Operating a safe site with a private client has challenges as they are not as aware of potentially harmful consequences from their actions.
2. Structural Integrity of Historic Buildings
Entering an old building to assess renovation is inherently risky. Until you examine the structure, you don’t know if the floor is rotten, the roof liable to collapse or if it has faulty wiring.
Broken buildings pose a risk to life and limb, and finding out the risks may be part of your role.
3. Geological Challenges
The history of architecture contains many examples of the landscape’s unexpected and potentially dangerous challenges.
Despite the surveyor’s best efforts on a new site, you can face landslides, flash flooding, toxic gases, and sinkholes.
Depending on the location, you might get earthquakes, volcanic activity, and any number of exciting events.
4. Past Activity of Construction Sites
You may come across some forgotten activity on any site – old basements, water pipes, and in some countries, unexploded bombs.
Humans have been building and impacting on the landscape for thousands of years. Old, abandoned structures get forgotten about until you uncover them.
The unexpected may create a safety risk because you don’t know an old sewage pipe in that area or hazardous chemicals dumped on the ground.
Looking After Your Health and Safety
The health and safety issues for architects are like those that face everyone else, and you need to look after yourself and put your needs first.
Pamper Your Body
You only get the one body; unlike a house, rebuilding is difficult. Concentrate on maintenance, so it does not fail.
Your body’s needs are straightforward.
Despite what you may tell yourself, you control what you put in your stomach.
It may be hard to think about fixing a healthy meal when you are in late and craving comfort food, but what you eat affects your mood and energy levels.
Treat maintaining a healthy weight and diet as a super-important project and, if necessary, design (or pay someone) a meal schedule covering a ten- or thirty-day cycle.
Then you don’t spend excess mental energy on thinking about what to eat and reaching for pizza.
Moving your body does not need hours in the gym (but that helps), because your body needs daily exercise. Putting more physical activity into your day can involve tweaks to your routine rather than training for a marathon.
Don’t stay seated for long periods; get up and move or invest in a standing desk or sit on a gym ball.
You are an architect – use those skills to look at your day and design in lots of movement to work your body.
Sleep is where your body recuperates from the stresses of living, and your mind presses the reset button. Everyone’s need for sleep is different but make sure you are getting the optimum amount.
Do architects sleep less than everyone else – at university, it may have become a habit, but your sleep debt builds up until it crushes you.
Sleep deprivation is an effective interrogation technique – stop torturing your body and get a good night’s sleep 95% of the time.
Your safety depends on being aware of risks. That means ensuring you have your safety equipment (hard hats, high visibility clothing, safety boots) with you and to hand.
Assess your environment for potential hazards and try to minimize them.
As a final backup, make sure you have insurance that covers you for accidents at work, so you get prompt assistance to restore you to peak working condition as quickly as possible.
Work-Life Balance for Architects
The best way to avoid the health risks of being an architect is to design your life to include plenty of time for friends and family, physical activity, excellent food, and a reasonable but not excessive working day.
There will be times when you need to work long hours but balance that out with time when you work shorter hours and spend more time with your family.
Your physical and mental energy levels benefit from a substantial time not working because then you work with a more intense focus and get things done efficiently.
A sensible work-life balance is better for your health, wealth, and quality of life.
Pamper your body, take time to relax, and celebrate your achievements.