A dozen health hazards in your office now
One in three British offices are sick. Health hazards lurk around every corner - and we don't just mean the boss. How many can you spot?
1. The killer keyboard - according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, almost 450,000 UK workers have upper limb repetitive starin injuries. Most of these are among computer users and a major cause is a poorly designed keyboard and mouse.
- Healthy solution: a personal work-station assessment - perhaps an ergonomic keyboard and new mouse.
- Easier alternative: keep the mouse close, learn keyboard shortcuts and make sure you take very frequent short breaks to stretch your hands, wrists and arms.
2. The diabolical desk - the other major contributor to RSI. Desks should be at a height which allow elbows to bend at 90 degrees with feet flat; chairs should support back while working.
- Healthy solution: adjustable desks and chairs.
- Easier alternative: take frequent breaks and get up from your work-station
3. The deadly display - VDUs contribute in a big way to the fog of electromagnetism in the average office. Although electrosensitivity varies from individual to individual, the number of people reporting symptoms of sensitivity is increasing. The problem is that even electric cables give off fields ten times stronger than those that we've evolved to deal with in the natural environment.
- Healthy solution: get a flat screen - emissions are about 70% lower.
4. The murderous mobile - deals out a dose of electromagnetic emissions some 30-60 times greater than a VDU. How risky these emissions are is still open to debate but they do exist.
- Healthy solution: go hands-free if you want but better just to limit use to short calls and no more than 20 minutes a day. After all, would you stick your head in a microwave any more often than necessary?
- Easier alternative: use a landline. Or shout.
5. Illness inducing ions - because of all the electrical equipment, the ions in the air of the average office are more positively charged than ladies nights in Benidorm. This has negative results: tiredness, headache, skin and eye irritation and all the familiar sick building symptoms.
- Healthy solution: ionisers can neutralise the air.
- Easier alternative: open the window - fresh air is negatively charged. Dutch law says nobody should work more than 6m from a window. How far away are you?
6. Lethal lighting - flourescent lighting and other poor lighting causes headaches and eye problems.
- Healthy solution: polarised full spectrum lighting. If you have flourescent lighting, get high frequency ballasts which increase the rate of flash making it less irritating.
- Easier alternative: put a natural daylight bulb in your desk lamp.
- Even easier alternative: work outside.
7. The polluting printer - photocopiers and laser printers produce ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The combination of the two is particularly unpleasant for the eyes and airways. (Some carpets and perfumes also produce VOCs so give the aftershave a miss.)
- Healthy solution: a separate ventilation system for this sort of equipment (the photocopier that is, not your aftershave).
- Easier alternative: keep printing and copying to a minimum. And get an inkjet.
8. The airless atmosphere - offices are often too hot (room temperature should be 16C according to the Health and Safety Executive) and the air too dry. Workers in air-conditioned offices are two and half times more likely to have respiratory problems than those in naturally ventilated environments.
- Healthy solution: get some plants such as peace lilies, bamboo palms, Boston ferns, rubber plants, azaleas or tulips to normalise temperature, carbon dioxide and humidity levels. Some also absorb VOCs (see 7). Wearing layers of clothing so you can respond to temperature changes also helps so sling out that unsuitable suit.
9. The fatal filter - hanging around by the coffee machine can seriously damage your health as this is where senior managers lurk looking for someone 'with a little spare capacity' (translation: to so some photocopying).
- Healthy alternative: send your colleague.
10. The stifling stench - the smell has a major effect on working performance. In experiments, productivity was increased by up to 24%using fragance control techniques to pump sweet smells around the office. Citrus smells are enlivening, floral smells help concentration and pinewood is relaxing. Another reason to ditch that aftershave and suck a lemon.
11. The bloody boss - two million of the UK's 24 million employees have been bullied at work in the past six months, according to the TUC, that's around 1 in 10. Of Businesslink's most common causes of stress, all but one are related to bad management - high workloads, lack of control, lack of support, inadequate training, a blame culture, weak management, multiple reporting lines and poor communciation. The other reason is an unhealthy working environment!
12. The bottom line - most corporations are legally obliged to maximise share-holder profit. Everything else from employee health to environmental awareness to 'corporate social responsibility' is only done if it contributes to this (or if not to do it would be illegal).
Page created on June 5th, 2008
Page updated on December 1st, 2009