When I was a part of the Human Resource Department, there was a time where a lot of the employees in the company were taking sick leaves. Because of this, our team decided to conduct a study on the reasons why they are getting sick. From here, we were able to determine 24 ways why.
There are various reasons why employees get sick in the work setting. Some causes include the cleanliness in the work setting while others are more affected by the emotional stress that they are experiencing from their jobs, co-workers, and bosses.
It is essential to take note that being sick does not only reflect in the physical wellbeing of an individual. Sickness can also be in terms of the emotional and mental stability of the workers. To give you an idea of what these reasons are, we give you the ways your office is making you sick.
Before we discuss the various ways your office is making you sick, you have to know first whether you are experiencing real sickness or you have sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome refers to a collection of symptoms such as itchy skin, headache, fatigue, and irritation of mucous membranes, which a person can experience whenever the employees are only inside the office. The reason why it is called sick building syndrome is that once these people are outside of their buildings, these symptoms tend to disappear.
It is difficult to detect whether an individual has sick building syndrome. Their suffering, however, is undeniable. Some cases force these employees to give up since they can no longer step foot and work at the building in question.
As of now, experts are still not yet sure what the trigger for sick building syndrome is. Some say that it is because of poor ventilation. They speculated this as a result of the 1970 energy crisis wherein the buildings were with high insulation and low ventilation standards - which is only around five cubic feet of outdoor air per person per minute.
Others say that this epidemic is also because of poor lighting. John Rekus, a contributing editor and area safety consultant in Baltimore, studied why a majority of employees in individual offices have constant headaches. The study showed that almost everyone blamed terrible air and the striking glare from their computer screens. Some workers, on the other hand, say that the sick building syndrome caused by stress.
If the air ventilation and air conditioning system does not work correctly, there is a tendency that air would not be distributed equally to all of the occupants in the office. Hence, this makes poor indoor air quality a significant risk factor in making employees sick.
So, what does it mean when there is poor indoor quality? It means that there is a high level of carbon dioxide concentration, which results in adverse health effects such as sweatiness, drowsiness, tingling hands and feet, headaches, coma, and seizures. To be able to solve this issue, the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, the design and installation should follow the local ventilation guidelines.
ASHRAE or American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends the following:
- 60 cubic feet per minute (cu ft/min) of outside air per person in spaces which are prone to contaminants (e.g., smoking rooms)
- 20 cubic feet per minute (cu ft/min) of outdoor air per person in office spaces
- 15 (cu ft/min) of outside air per person in a standard room
"Most of us spend the majority of the week at work and thus have extended exposure to these allergens in an enclosed space. Repeated and increased exposure can make existing allergies more severe," shares Dr. Purvi Purikh, the Allergy and Asthma Network's allergist and immunologist.
Offices often house common allergens such as mold and dust mites. Once employees expose themselves to these allergens, it might trigger their allergy symptoms (even if some of you are not aware that you have allergies!). It also becomes more problematic since some physical work environments are not maintained and cleaned correctly.
Lastly, if your offices are in older buildings or those who are experiencing water damage, the risk of the presence of allergens increases, those companies who are in this situation should think about creating a design project. They may opt to have weekly cleaning initiatives or some mitigation initiatives which will also involve their whole working stuff.
One of the common misconceptions of air contaminants is that it is more evident on the outside. It is not accurate. Studies show that most chemical air pollutants come from the insides of rooms and buildings. Several office materials such as copy machines, wood products, upholstery, carpeting, and adhesives emit substances which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
One type of VOC is called formaldehyde. When people inhale this carcinogen, there is a high chance these individuals will experience dire health effects. Some short term effects of the inhalation of formaldehyde include allergic reactions and exacerbations of asthma. In the long term, however, it might cause infertility, cancer, or thyroid disorders.
Tobacco smoking can also emit other types of VOCs and toxic particles. Exposure to this can develop asthma in babies and children and worsen asthma conditions and chronic respiratory problems.
To eliminate the presence of these indoor pollutants, companies can implement these initiatives in the office:
- At least once every six months companies should have carpet cleaning
- Use performance air filters and particle control devices to conduct regular air cleaning
- Ensure the daily maintenance of the HVAC systems
- Store adhesives, pesticides, and paints in a well-ventilated area
- Implement a tobacco smoke restriction in the office
- Place office plants such as palm trees, Kimberly Queen, and Boston fern to help remove VOCs in the air
- Get fresh outside air once in a while
Most workers who are not out in the field are seated on their chairs for up to eight hours per day. It might seem subtle but unknown to many; this habit can be considered a dangerous one. Sitting for one-third of the day can increase the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other health conditions.
The best way to counter this sedentary lifestyle is to get up once in a while and go for a walk or stroll outside the office. You may also opt to buy a standing desk which will enable you to stretch and insert some quick small workouts while doing work.
Whether you are using your car or riding public transportation, there is still a chance of exposure to the nightmares of the road. A research conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that driving more than 10 miles lead to increased cholesterol, blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.
On the other hand, a study from the United Kingdom showed that individuals who commute more than 30 minutes per day experience lower levels of happiness and satisfaction. It is backed up by another research which showed the long public transportation commutes result in a higher level of metabolic risk and low levels of physical activity.
Hence, several companies solve this problem by providing their quarters, which are near their office. It will let employees avoid the stress they feel whenever commuting to work.
Aside from the pollutants which found inside the office, outdoor air can also contribute to the sickness experienced by the workers.
Combustion products like nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide are two of the most dangerous outdoor chemical pollutants. Combustion appliances, plumbing vents, and vehicle exhausts usually emit these. These combustion products can affect our physical health whenever they enter the office through air vents, windows, and other openings.
Prolonged exposure and inhalation of these may cause confusion, headaches, weakness, nausea, and dizziness. The worst thing that can happen, however, is brain damage and death.
The best way to fight and resolve this problem is to increase ventilation through periodic maintenance of the HVAC system. There should also be regular cleaning in the office supplies using air filters or carbon monoxide detectors.
There are specific jobs which will require employees to extend their working hours. Hence, they are forced to work overtime. But having a work-life balance is essential when maintaining physical and mental wellness. Here’s a list of workplace wellness activities you can implement today.
According to an experiment conducted by the European Heart Journal, individuals who spend more than 10 hours of their day in the office daily are 60 percent more likely to experience serious heart troubles. Most office records show that heart attacks and chest pains are the most common sickness in their work environment.
Because of this, experts recommend that employers implement an office rule which will indicate a specific number of hours per week that their workers are not allowed to go beyond. This way, they will be forced to go home once they reach this maximum number of hours.
Workplace bullying is something that affects your mental health. Although stress is reasonable, the unreasonable lousy burden experienced because of workplace bullying can lead to psychological injury if not appropriately addressed. Here are some initiatives which can be implemented to avoid workplace bullying:
Ergonomic injuries refer to situations where the employees experience musculoskeletal disorder symptoms due to ergonomic strains related to posture and repetitive movements. Due to this problem, the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) came up with the recent general ergonomic guidelines when it comes to setting up the workstations in the office. Listed below are some of the points in the said guideline:
- Place adjustable chairs which can be adjusted depending on the staff's height
- Position the working chairs, computer monitor, and keyboard in a straight line with the body of the one using it
- Use an adjustable keyboard tray which will be easy to position depending on the height and angle of hands.
- Install standing tables which can be more helpful with the posture of the employees
Although ergonomic injuries are hard to detect as compared to other disorders, there is still a way to do so. OSHA advises the Human Resource Department to pay attention to fatigue, numbness, pain, or any weakness which can be a sign of a severe ergonomic problem.
Spending the majority of your day in front of a computer may cause eye strain. It is when your eyes become dry and irritated. When employees feel these symptoms, there is a big chance that they will have trouble focusing.
To reduce eye constraint and fatigue, what you can do is to dim the overhead lights in the room and close the blinds on the windows. Make sure that the position of the monitors is slightly below eye level to be able to minimize the screen glare. Increasing the font size of the texts can also assist in alleviating the eyestrain. Lastly, OSHA also recommends that employees take a 10 to 15-minute break for every hour that they spend in front of the computer.
Wearing black high heels may give you a professional look, but if you are not wearing the best ones, you are probably sacrificing more than just the comfort. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons revealed that high heels do not only provide uncomfortability but may also cause physical disorder such as knee pain, bunions, and lower back pain.
Because of this, more and more companies stop deviate from implementing the traditional office dress code. They believe that workers are more productive and safe when they wear clothes in which they are most comfortable in.
Biological contaminants refer to bacteria, pollens, molds, and viruses found in every material in the office.
For example, they may breed in air ducts or drain pans where there is stagnant water available. Aside from this, bathrooms, basements, kitchens, attics, and refrigerators also house high humidity levels where spores and molds may take place. These are responsible for a lot of illness of workers.
Employers should also check out printer cords, vent covers, and fans where dust mites are lurking. Most of them can be in neglected areas. Dust mites are dangerous since they cause respiratory problems when inhaled. Lastly, small food storage and disposal may also increase the risk of biological contaminants. This situation will attract rodents and pests that may pass on diseases to people.
Aside from putting out extra hours at work, there are specific jobs which will require the employees to sleep or take short naps during the day and work at night.
According to experts, this might take a toll on your body. The reason for this is your circadian rhythm, also known as your body's natural sleeping cycle, is thrown off due to these odd hours. When people are awake at night and asleep during the day, a more significant amount of the stress hormone cortisol released. Although the presence of cortisol is standard in the body, having elevated levels of this hormone negatively impacts the overall situation of your body.
The National Sleep Foundation found out that those who work at night shifts have a higher chance of experiencing ulcers, cancer, or any heart disease.
If your company offers unlimited free food, which is often unhealthy, then you are in big trouble. A study published by Brian Wansink, Food Brand Lab Director of Cornell University, revealed that employees who have free food in their work setting eat an average of 225 calories more than those who are not. Overall, this amounts to an additional 7.7 pound per year.
It is even worse if offices offer candy dishes in each cubicle. Experts also recommended keeping these candy dishes at least 1.8 meters or 6 feet away from the staff's table to avoid acquiring these excess poundage.
Although technology is a big help in the business world, the big downside is that the workers today are less active than the past generations. Many secretarial jobs involve sitting in front of the computer screen and typing all day. While this practice has increased the productivity of workers, it also led to dramatic increases in injuries which are caused by repetitive movements.
"Office workers with more light exposure at the office had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace," an expert from Northwestern University reveals. Another study done by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine supports this claim. They also added that employees who are not exposed to sunlight sleep less than an hour each night.
Poor lighting in the work setting has different consequences. For one, this can contribute to vision problems such as impaired vision, headaches, and eyestrain. It can also create glare and create shadows which may cause reduced productivity and increase the risk of illness.
Experts recommend that employers maximize the presence of overhead lights located inside the office and task lighting, which can be at each workstation. At the same time, optometrists are also suggesting to use special glasses for those who are frequently using the computer for their work. Being exposed to adequate sunlight can positively affect metabolism, mood, and alertness.
Even if you don't believe it, it is possible to affect your physical and mental health by just being bored to death. According to a study by the International Journal of Epidemiology revealed that those who are bored in their jobs and at their offices are more likely to die early. It also stated that those who experience this are more likely to be women and younger.
Being bored affects their work performance. Most of the received low-performance grades from their bosses and are proven to have their health more critical than those who are happy in their work.
Aside from causing some visual impairments, being in front of the computer can also cause other injuries. Typing too much may lead to having carpal tunnel syndrome. It is a condition which causes numbness, pain and tingling in the arms and hands. Do not underestimate this problem since treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is not only extensive but may also require surgery in the end.
Not to be sexist, but studies revealed that there is a more significant chance for you to be exchanging germs with a male co-worker than a female one. It is backed up by a study conducted by scientists and microbiologists at the University of Arizona and San Diego State University. The found out that approximately 20 percent more bacteria are in the cubicles of men compared to women's.
"Men are at a greater risk for catching bugs like the norovirus as they often don't pay as strict attention to hand hygiene as women do after using the restroom. Also, a man's larger body size gives him more bacteria to spread," shares Michael Schmidt, a microbiologist at the University of South Carolina.
To keep these bacteria in check, it is recommended to wash and disinfect your hands frequently. Do this as well after touching office supplies which are not yours.
Offices are known to be noisy places. Although there are times that the noise levels in the work areas are not enough to cause hearing loss, they can still negatively contribute to stress, work productivity, and employee morale. In short, noise pollution affects mental wellness.
The best way to address noise pollution is to design rooms wherein the workers are away or separated from the noisy equipment such as ventilation and printers. The materials which are used to build the office can also be altered to minimize the levels of noise. For example, cubicle walls, acoustic tiles, or carpeting can be installed to absorb the sound in the office.
Lastly, a good recommendation is that there be separate rooms where employees can get together to have their meetings. This way, the other people who are not involved in these gatherings won't be disrupted by the noise from these meetings.
Corporate environments are now getting into the open office trend. This trend or co-working space refers to employees who share a shared space. Although this may promote camaraderie and closeness among co-employees, there is also a wrong side to it.
First, there is a high noise level which comes with it. In an article by the Journal of Applied Psychology, the experiment studied 40 workers divided into two groups - one group being exposed to office noise while the other one had a quiet environment. Those who were in the group subjected to office noise had lower work productivity rate and had a higher stress level.
Second, employers saw that this kind of setup was not beneficial since it transfers sickness easily. For example, if one of the workers in that area had a cold, the tendency is that the virus will quickly shift to the co-workers because of the shared space.
Lastly, some companies also practice open spaces wherein their employees do not have their permanent desks. They have to occupy spaces wherein no employees are working. It is also crucial when it comes to transferring germs because admit it or not, some employees do not have the best hygiene practices. It leads to some cubicles which might be dirty due to the previous user. It might harm your health.
Those offices which offer green spaces do not only protect the environment, but they also protect people from different housing kinds of sickness. The people who are helped by this the most are those who have asthma.
"We've become so efficient at sealing off areas where air would come in (which saves energy) through the roof and windows that everything gets trapped inside, which makes people sick. The pollution kicked up from carpeting has nowhere to go, and it settles into the lungs," shared Dr. Nathan Rabinovitch, an asthma specialist at the National Jewish Health in Denver.
Working in an overheated office leads to the risk of health and lowers work productivity. According to a study by the UK Health Protection Agency, combinations of high levels of carbon dioxide, worker respiration, warm air in meeting rooms, and excellent presentations can cause severe headache, dizziness, and sleepiness. Once a person experiences this, there is also a high chance that there will be a drop in decision-making ability. Here’s a list of strategies on how you can improve work productivity of your employees.
A study by Cornell University and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers found out that the optimal temperature inside the office is around 24 to 25 degrees Celsius in the summer and 20 to 22 degrees Celsius in the winter.
Most employees find themselves too busy to dine in a good restaurant. Hence, they resort in unhealthy lunches by grabbing unhealthy food from fast food chains. These indulge result in adverse health effects. A portion of fast food is proven to have double the calories with that of a similar menu of the same size. At the same time, it also has high levels of oxidized fate, which may lead to various heart diseases.
The excellent way to address this issue is for employers to set up a canteen inside or near the office. The cafeteria can offer set meals which are healthy for the employees. You may also have the option to reserve food here just in case you won't be able to grab one during the required time.
The things mentioned above does not only make you sick, but it may also suck the life out of you. It is not healthy that aside from complying to your tight deadlines, you still have to worry about these work hazards. Your workplace should give you safety and security, not fear. When you feel that you are experiencing a number of these reasons, make sure to bring it up to your supervisor or any person in the top management. This way, they will be able to address it as early as possible.
What is an excellent way to tell my supervisor these work hazards? The first thing to do is to set up a feedback session with your direct supervisor. Tell him or her the things you are feeling and provide proof to back up your claim. Once he or she has understood and acknowledged this issue, make sure to give some suggestions on how to address this problem. This way, you will also be able to contribute to the betterment of the office setting.
Do meetings also contribute to the sickness of the employees? Long and dragging meetings are the ones who contribute to the sickness of the employees. Research says that employees feel more depressed whenever they are faced with draining employees. They sometimes feel that these gatherings are unnecessary and only lower their energy. They also think that these things are only a waste of time. These negativities affect the mental wellness of employees.
Why can overexposure to photocopiers and printers lead to lung diseases and other disorders? Photocopiers are one of the main sources of potentially deadly ozone. They are more dangerous when their filters are not cleaned and changed regularly. In fact, even small amounts of this deadly ozone can cause severe irritation and chest pains. On the other hand, laser printers release toner particles which can easily enter your lungs and bloodstream. This can cause lung diseases and other ailments.
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