Wednesday, September 28, 2011

11 Serious Health Problems Linked to Office Life

Millions of people go to work in an office every weekday (and sometimes even weekends). Most probably consider how much they’d rather be somewhere else instead of sitting in their office chair, but not everyone thinks of the health impacts of office life. Back pain, sick buildings, repetitive stress issues, noise, and good old-fashioned stress can take their toll on office workers, especially for those who spend their entire career in an office. Read on, and you’ll find out about 11 serious health problems plaguing office workers today, and what you can do to mitigate their impact.

Eye strain

Wherever you’re doing it, using a computer can put you at risk for tired, red eyes and impaired vision. Of course, so many people primarily work at computers at the office, making this a hot spot for eye strain. Using a computer can bring on dry eye symptoms, as people tend to blink up to 60% less when looking at a computer screen, and office environments typically exacerbate the situation with dry air, paper dust, and fans. All is not lost if you’re a computer desk jockey, however. You can protect yourself by looking away from the screen every 30 minutes to focus on a distant object, as well as using eye drops when you feel eye strain. Experts also recommend getting glasses specially made for the distance you normally sit away from your computer screen for added protection.

Chronic back pain

Sitting in an office chair can do a number on your back each day, especially if you’re not practicing proper posture. Slouching in your chair can lead to muscle fatigue and injury, as it exaggerates your natural, comfortable curves. This is exacerbated by stress, which can put lots of tension in your back. You can help prevent injury and back pain by promoting good posture with a chair that allows you to keep your knees level with your hips and rest both feet flat on the floor. You may also need a towel or pillow to help your chair support your back’s natural curve.

Noise stress

Phone calls, faxes, water cooler chats, and other office noises may seem harmless or annoying at most, but the fact is that they can be a health risk. Cornell University environmental psychologist Gary Evans conducted a study that revealed office noise in open-style offices can lead to "higher levels of stress and lower task motivation." Evans and his colleagues believe that low-level noise leads to workers becoming more focused on their task, which may sound good for productivity, but in reality is not. Decision making suffers, as well as concentration, keeping workers from realizing that they need to take a break or change their posture. Quiet, enclosed rooms can alleviate the effects of low-level office noise. In lieu of private offices, workers can benefit from noise reducing headphones.


It’s not hard to imagine that working at a desk can make you fat. Sitting down all day with little exercise, paired with eating out for lunch, or worse, eating at your desk, can clearly lead to weight gain. To combat this trend, workers can find small ways to fit exercise into their day, including walking to work, going for a jog during lunch or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Some inventors have also come up with treadmills and standing desks that allow workers to work on their feet, burning more calories while still doing their jobs.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel is one of the most common hazards plaguing office workers. Most workers spend their days repeating the same common tasks over and over again, moving their mouse, typing on their keyboard, picking up phones, and more, putting a strain on their muscles and joints. This often leads to carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain, tingling, numbness, and even itching brought on by swollen ligaments and bones in the wrist. Some workers require surgery to correct this issue, but you can help prevent it by modifying your repetitive actions, as well as ensuring that your wrists come off the wrist pad, hovering instead of resting over it.

Over reaching

You may feel lucky to have a large desk on which to spread out your work items, but it may actually be doing you harm. Reaching for equipment such as your phone, mouse, and keyboard can cause damage to your shoulder joint, as continuous over reaching means your shoulder is often placed at its full range of motion, when it should only be in its mid range. For your protection, frequently used equipment should be kept very close, within reach of your arms when bent comfortably. You should also remember to keep your wrist horizontal when using the mouse, and use a soft touch in order to protect your fingers.


There’s no denying that stress can be harmful to your health, and office environments are often ripe with stressful situations. Day-to-day activities, deadlines, pressure, and even conflicts in the office can stress workers out, with chronic stress leading to conditions including depression diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, obesity, obesity, and more. Experts recommend practicing breathing and relaxation techniques at your desk, taking breaks outside of the office, and even calling in mediation for conflict resolution.

Sick building syndrome

Poor indoor air quality can be hazardous to workers, typically stemming from HVAC issues, off-gassing of building materials, molds, and improper ventilation. Office workers who suffer from sick building syndrome often have symptoms including eye, nose and throat irritation, odor and taste sensations, and neurotoxic health problems. Workers can do their part to prevent sick building syndrome by encouraging their employers to maintain a healthy building, with replacement of water-stained materials, low-VOC adhesives and paints, good HVAC maintenance, and regular cleaning with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner.

Irritation from carbonless copy paper

Some office workers are required to handle carbonless copy paper every day, an action that can be hazardous to their health. Exposure to this type of paper can lead to skin irritation as well as mucosal membrane irritation in the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Reducing exposure to carbonless copy paper isn’t always possible for workers, but it is possible to reduce or eliminate symptoms by following food hygiene and industrial practices including keeping adequate ventilation and minimizing hand-to-mouth and hand-to-eye contact, as well as frequent hand washing.

EMF exposure

Computer and cell phone emissions are so commonplace, they may seem harmless. But the radiation emitted from them has the potential to be hazardous. It is believed by some that high level EMF exposure can cause leukemia, cancers, reproductive and development problems, as well as depression. There is not much you can do to avoid EMF in the modern workplace, and even working at home will still result in exposure. Still, it is possible to minimize your contact with EMF by keeping your distance from objects that put off emissions, including keeping your cell phone in a far away desk drawer, and placing your computer tower away from your body.

Creepy crawlies

Germs and bacteria are everywhere. They aren’t all bad, but some of them can make you very sick. You may feel like your desk is a safe haven, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Your desk is likely to have more bacteria per square inch than the toilet in your office, harboring cold and flu viruses or worse. You can stop the germs in their tracks by practicing careful hygiene at work, remembering to wash your hands frequently, and avoiding eating at your desk. Perhaps most importantly, you should regularly clean your work area, wiping down everything you touch with antibacterial wipes, especially your desktop, phone, keyboard, and mouse, all of which harbor thousands of germs per square inch that can bring on the sniffles or even infectious diseases.

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Story by Emma Taylor

1 comment:

  1. Utilizing a computer can deliver on dry eye symptoms, as folks tend to blink up to 60% less when taking a look at a pc screen, and office environments sometimes exacerbate the situation with dry air, paper mud, and followers. All is not misplaced in the event you’re a computer desk jockey