This September to November, Singapore prepares itself to cope with an unwelcome guest that is likely to visit Singapore again: Haze.
News reports and Indonesia's disaster agency have warned that haze could return after a jump in forest fires in the Riau province on western Sumatra.
Are you prepared to stay cool during Singapore’s least favourite season? Insidedishes out the facts about haze, and the do’s and don’ts to keep your health in check!
What is Haze?
Don’t be in the dark about haze. The substances that can accumulate and float in hazy air include dust, smoke, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. When all of these come together in huge quantities in relatively dry air, then a haze crisis strikes. Due to its small particulate size, particles that make up haze can go deep into the lungs, and, in some cases, enter the bloodstream!
Haze can cause two types of health effects: local and systematic.
Local effects result in eye, nose and throat irritation. People with a history of sinus problems or have a sensitive nose are more likely to develop nasal congestion, sore throat and coughing during the haze period. Skin irritations can also persist for those with eczema or other skin conditions.
Systemic effects are more serious. These can range from respiratory conditions such asthma attacks and bronchitis to worsening of heart diseases such as heart attacks or heart failure.
Caring for Staff, Stakeholders and the Public
In view of the potential haze situation, CapitaLand readily got on task to put in place initiatives to prepare for any potential escalation of the haze situation in Singapore.
Besides ensuring a sufficient supply of masks for its more than 2,000 Singapore-based staff, managers are given the discretion to let staff work from home in the event of haze.
The Group will also close external features and postpone outdoor events across its office buildings, shopping malls and serviced residence if PSI readings exceed 150.
In addition, main contractors and sub-contractors at all CapitaLand project sites are required to comply with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Manpower and the National Environment Agency (NEA) to protect their employees from the effects of haze. CapitaLand will also conduct risk assessment to determine whether outdoor lifting operations involving tower and mobile cranes should cease due to poor visibility.
“Procedures are in place for staff at all our properties to update tenants, shoppers and guests on PSI readings and advise them on precautionary measures,” said Mr Tan Seng Chai, Group Chief Corporate Officer, CapitaLand Limited and Chairman, CapitaLand Sustainability Steering Committee.
“The health and safety of our stakeholders are of utmost importance.”
Beating the Haze!
With corporate measures to protect staff from haze, you are still the best person in charge of your own health. Our quick guide below offers you tips on the do’s and don’ts to beat the haze, worry-free!
1. Know your PSI
PSI stands for Pollutant Standards Index, a system used by NEA to measure the local air quality. The index now includes the measurement of particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller in size, also known as PM2.5.
Carry on with your normal activities when the PSI value is in the range of 0 to 100. But be alert when the PSI value is in the range of 101 to 200, which is considered “Unhealthy”. The range of 201 to 300 is noted as “Very Unhealthy”, and anything above 300 is “Hazardous”.
2. Limit outdoor work when the PSI exceeds 100
When the PSI is above 100, outdoor work that involves strenuous physical exertion should be minimised. Staff with heart or respiratory problems should work indoors.
When the PSI is above 200, outdoor work involving strenuous physical exertion should be avoided. Staff with heart or respiratory problems should work indoors, and should not be engaged with physically strenuous work.
3. Know when to whip out your N95 mask
If you are a healthy person without any heart or respiratory ailments, and you need to head outdoors for several hours when the PSI level is above 200, then be equipped with a N95 mask. Surgical masks and paper masks do not provide adequate protection from the haze particles.
N95 masks are not needed indoors as there is no exposure to smog. Neither is it important for quick commuting from home to work, as such short exposure trips do not cause significant damage to health. You can reuse an N95 mask as long as it is not soiled or distorted in shape, but do not share masks.
For best effect, N95 masks need to be fitted properly for each user. Check that the available mask is appropriately sized and covers the nose and mouth comfortably without leak.
4. Drink up!
Keep yourself hydrated at all times. Plan ahead to make sure you have a filled bottle in your bag or in the car.
If you find water boring, think fresh fruit juices, or munch on hydrating foods like watermelons, cucumbers, oranges and strawberries.
5. Watch out for those more vulnerable
First, make sure you are well taken care of.
Then, look out for these four groups of people who should minimise their outdoor activities when the air is in the “Hazardous” range: children, the elderly, expectant mothers and patients with past medical problems such as heart and respiratory ailments.
Children are vulnerable due to their faster breathing rates and the fact that their lungs are still developing. The elderly are more prone to adverse health conditions because of past medical conditions.
Expectant mothers are advised to stay indoors and to avoid using masks because air intake is more difficult for them when the masks are donned. Women in their second and third trimesters should only use masks for a short duration each time.
6. See a doctor if necessary
If you experience symptoms relating to irritation of the eye, nose and throat, or any chest symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pains, do consult your doctor immediately.
It is difficult to tell how haze may affect each of us, so do not attempt self-diagnosis. Such a practice is dangerous because you may miss the nuances of diagnosis.
Always visit a doctor instead whenever you feel the first signs of discomfort.
With these tips, it is not too difficult to stay healthy in the grey season ahead. Keep being positive! Every cloud does have its silver lining – even if it seems hard to look for it in the hazy weather.