Guest Post by reader Emma Jones.
Most people wouldn’t normally class office work as a high risk profession. The sedentary nature of the job and lack of physical work that goes with it may not scream ‘danger’ but in fact there are a number of health problems that can come with a desk based job ranging from workplace habits, poor working environments and issues with common office equipment – some of which may not be obvious. Most businesses and corporations require at least some book keeping or administration work and with a reported 40% rise in ‘white collar workers’ in the US since the 1970’s, this is clearly one of the leading professions in the country. So it is important that office workers adopt good working practices and create safe work environments in order to stay healthy. Here are some of the most common health problems associated with office workers and the best ways to avoid them.
Eye strain is a common problem associated with looking at computer screens, mobile phones and paperwork for prolonged periods of time. It can cause eye itching, watering, soreness and in severe cases double vision, light sensitivity and headache. It is a problem that is thought to affect between 50-90% of all computer based workers as their eyes are constantly working hard to focus on small fonts and prints. Medical professionals may often recommend limiting your time on computers but if it is your job it’s not always possible to do this. Instead make sure the font on your computer is large and the resolution is high – making things clearer and reducing the need to squint and strain. Your office space should also be generally well lit, if not with natural light than full spectrum lighting units which are thought to emit more natural, balanced spectrums of light than fluorescent tubing so that reading and writing are also easier.
Coughs and colds
If one person in the office gets a cold then the chances are it’s going to spread like wildfire. That’s because the air quality in office blocks is often very poor and although air conditioning might feel fresher than opening a window, its actually recycling all of that stale air and pumping it back out to the workers. Devices such as printers and photocopiers are also thought to emit ozone fumes, electrical issues may present a problem, ventilation systems may let in pollution from outdoors and all of these factors combined are thought to contribute to an actual medical condition known as ‘sick building syndrome’. To help improve this it is important to keep windows open, take outdoor breaks when you can and keep offices full of (well looked after) green plants which act as natural air purifiers by taking in toxins and emitting oxygen.
Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive strain injuries occur when you carry out particular task repeatedly and it causes stress and tension to muscles and joints. One of the main types of RSI in an office environment occurs in the hands and wrists from typing and using a mouse or from things such as holding a telephone between the neck and ear. Using handsfree telephone sets, ergonomically designed keyboards and tools such as padded mouse mats may relieve some of the stress to your wrists and hands. You should also takes breaks and carry out regular simple hand/wrist exercises such as stretching the fingers and rotating the wrists in order to keep the blood flowing.
Many people assume that standing puts more pressure on the body but surprisingly sitting down is actually more strenuous on the lower back and if you are sitting for long periods of time without being properly supported then it can lead to severe aches, pain and make you more vulnerable to injury. Slouching is one of the main contributing factors in poor posture so it is important to sit up straight, with your feet flat on the floor and your forearms at a ninety degree angle on your desk. A good quality, adjustable chair and a foot rest (if necessary) can help achieve this. The top of your computer monitor should be at eye level and your mouse and other belongings should be within easy reach.
Unfortunately the statistics speak for themselves: obesity is rife within office workers and presumably due to the rise in modern technology over the past three decades, they are now more inactive than ever. The lack of physical exercise coupled with the way in which office staff tend to ‘graze’ at their desks on unhealthy snacks could be the reason why their profession is causing them to pile on the pounds, but with obesity being a major health condition linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious ailments it is something that needs to be addressed. With rising economical demands and increased pressure on staff in many offices, workaholics are spending more time in the office and consequently neglecting their diet and health. One study suggests that short bursts of exercise and daily practices such as taking a walk at lunch or opting to use the stairs rather than the lift can help with this but office workers should take responsibility for their diets and try to avoid unhealthy snacking during the day.
References and source materials:
Blog4Safety: ‘Safety Can Be Confusing’, accessed 24.07.15
The Business Insider: ‘Great News We’ve Become a White Collar Nation’, accessed 22.07.14
WebMD: ‘Eye Fatigue’, accessed 23.07.14
Consumer Healthday: ‘Is Your Office Making You Sick: Sick Building Syndrome‘, accessed 23.07.14
The Atlantic: ‘Jobs With The Highest Obesity Rates’, accessed 22.07.14
Rehab.com: ‘Is Workaholism a Genuine Addiction’, accessed 25.07.14
Overstock.com – Office and conference room chairs – accessed 22.07.14