Leadership

Five health hazards of your office job

Do you think because you're not a professional skydiver that you're not risking your health every day just by going to work? Think again.

Think you're safe from physical issues caused by your job just because you're not a logger or a rickshaw driver? Well, think again.

According a study published by economic and social policy researchers at the Urban Institute, the number of physically demanding jobs has dropped to less than 10%, leaving more Americans susceptible to desk-job-related health problems.

As a tech pro, you may escape the risk of bone-crunching injury, but there are still plenty of maladies that could befall you right at your desk. They are:

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Yow know the people in your office with those ridiculous contraptions velcroed to their forearms and hands? They're not professional bowlers. They have what is perhaps the most common office malady around--carpal tunnel syndrome. This is marked by pain, soreness, tingling, numbness, or itching that's caused when a nerve that runs through the forearm is compressed by swollen ligaments and bones in the wrist. It's brought on by too much typing.

You can help prevent the problem by making sure your wrists never actually rest on the wrist pad by your keyboard. They should hover above it.

2. Eyestrain

Signs of eyestrain can include blurry vision, of course, but also watery or dry eyes, headache, or sore neck. If you spend most of your time at a computer, Microsoft suggests you increase your font size so you don't have to squint. Also, it helps to look away from your computer frequently to allow your eyes to adjust to different distances. Take care of your eyes; you'll need them, especially if you're a professional bowler.

3. Back pain

Even if you have great posture or have the latest ergonomic setup, sitting for hours at a time can play havoc on your back muscles. Ignoring the curious glances of your coworkers, get up from your desk occasionally to stretch or walk.

4. Bacteria

A 2002 University of Arizona study found the typical worker's desk has hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. If just reading that doesn't make you sick, just think of all the cold and flu germs lurking around your desk and on your phone. Keep your hands, surface areas, and keyboard clean with disinfectant to cut down the risks.

5. Stress

When you have no vigorous physical outlet for stress, it tends to internalize, which can lead to a host of health problems like ulcers, heart disease, and depression. (For more stress-related issues, please see my medical chart.)

Unfortunately, preventing stress is not always within your hands. How you deal with it is. Finding energy outlets like running, video gaming, and professional bowling can help.

For more on IT health risks and what you can do about them, see 10 IT health risks -- and how to combat them.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

35 comments
ibivi
ibivi

What about ambient noise, mold, dust, recycled air, lack of ergonomic workspaces and ergonomic equipment, RSIs (neck and shoulder pain, tendonitis), not taking breaks, excessive lighting, etc, etc. After 30 years of working at a desk I have pain in my hands, wrists, neck and shoulders, tendonitis, backpain, eyesight issues. Take your breaks, destress, limit coffee, move your body, do not sit still for more than 15 mins, go outside to get fresh air, take walks to get your body moving, find somewhere quiet to sit, meditate, clear your mind of work, if you are a workaholic take up hobbies or other healthy activities (volunteering). Limit overtime. If your company has an employee assistance program use the service to help with wellbeing issues.

medomoreno
medomoreno

Isn't there anyone else who is made ill by AC, especially working in conditions like a meat locker, or even just sitting directly below a vent? Terrifies me.

proudSCONNIE
proudSCONNIE

I swear I'm not a germaphobe but, now that I'm expecting I take special precautions by wearing a face mask while swapping out toner cartridges. I have also gotten into the habit of taking a anti-bacterial wipe to any notebook keyboard coming in for repair. The thought that there are more germs on a keyboard or cell phone than a toilet seat is just beyond disgusting.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

It's really too bad most office environments aren't suitable for speech recognition software. It'd be entirely too distracting to have everyone talking to their computer all day, but the stuff does work. I've been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a long time now (more than 10 years) for a lot of heavy-duty writing at home. Once it's trained, it's very, very good at recognizing my dictation. Because most "mouse" operations have keyboard equivalents, it's possible to train DNS to select text, open windows, run menu commands, etc. without touching the keyboard or mouse. Using software to control the computer goes a long way towards avoiding repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. The only requirement, really, is a good microphone and to take the time to train the software (actually, it's more like the software training you to speak clearly without slurring and stumbling over words!).

lovingNJ
lovingNJ

How about "sick" buildings? The air in my building is bad. I cough all the time here and not elsewhere.

aroc
aroc

If I follow the suggestion for #1 to not rest my wrists (or more commonly the heels of my hands - is that better?), I find my shoulder/neck/back are stressed more. I have pain in all of them now after 35 years of IT work (and motorcycling for about 10 years definitely contributed to the carpal tunnel syndrome with handlebar "death gripping").

damian.murphy
damian.murphy

It really annoys me when people talk about bacteria on surfaces and the health riks they present. Most surface bacteria are harmless and exposure to them can actually boost your immune system. I'm worried about the surface sprays and wipes that are being pushed as the answer because they kill 99% of germs on contact. The other 1% develop an immunity and we contribute to the problem by breeding super bugs!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I don't type enough to get carpal tunnel, I don't spend enough time looking at the screen to get eyestrain (unless you count the windshield), and driving is stress relief for me. Back pain was a problem until I got my new van, but apparently the ability to recline the driver's seat that little bit further back has fixed that. #4 is the big problem for me, since I go places in stores that most people don't want to think about. Up into ceilings, down under checkstands or display cases, behind walls. And grocery stores being what they are, there are always pests: mice, roaches, spiders, etc. All I can do is wash my hands as often as possible and wear a mask when going into those recesses. So far, so good... etu

GSG
GSG

That's a big one. After my 2nd round of bronchitis in 3 months that I picked up while working on PCs in the ER, my doctor told me I had to either stay out of the ER or wear a mask. I used hand sanitizer, but when someone coughs right in your face as you're inhaling, there's no way around it.

Tommy S.
Tommy S.

Always wear protection at work.

oluwagbenga
oluwagbenga

Scriptural Meditation and Prayer works against stress.

Freetime000
Freetime000

cold? you shoudl worry more about what that AC is circulating... mold, bacteria, black death!

dpcarp
dpcarp

I've often wondered about toner fumes. My wife complains about it often. Any knowledge out there?

vin442
vin442

After catching Pneumonia and Bronchitis in 2002 (which I got from a 7 day stay in a 4 Star Hotel flanked by 2 5 hour jetplane rides), I now get sick anytime I am in our server room (with 2 20 ton A/C units) for an extended period of time. Usually, this results in an extended period of being out of work. I never was this sick while turning a wrench under a "dirty" hood.

kjohnson
kjohnson

The numbers 1, 2 and 5 felt oddly familiar when I saw them, but it took me a week to recall exactly what they called to mind. There is a rule of mammalian evolution called the Law of 1, 2 and 5. The legs and arms of every mammal have one bone above the first joint, two bones between the first joint and the second joint, and five bones below the second joint. This rule was one of the great mysteries of evolution - why has no mammalian species ever evolved arms and legs in a different pattern? - until someone (I forget who) worked out that it is due to gas diffusion processes during early embryonic development.

JustinF
JustinF

There's always the risk of someone going postal, actually that's a risk my colleagues face... ;)

Tink!
Tink!

is cracking your knee on the corner of your desk! My co-worker and I do this at least once a week each - unintentional of course.

kjohnson
kjohnson

I once had to calm down a young women who became hysterical when someone told her that the disk she was carrying had a virus on it. She didn't realise that computer viruses are harmless to human beings.

Joe G
Joe G

....to avoid visual aids.

bboyd
bboyd

/snort Never mind I rescind my request for information.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Actually the toner particles can be a concern. I remembered reading about a possible health concern due to toner particles so I googled it again. Here is a link to just one of the articles that came up: http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal_tech/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=201202237 This wikipedia article also mentions potential health risks associated with toner and ozone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_printer I also read that there were concerns about the amount of ozone put out by (older?) printers using a lot of electricity. The wikipedia article mentions that commercial printers have features to control ozone releases but consumer printers don't. So in theory, those old "Printer boxes" (remember when dot matrix printers that sounded like machine guns had to be acoustically muffled by isolation in "sound proofed containers") may be resurrected, but now to contain laser toner particles and ozone. ;) PS: has a

Tink!
Tink!

is probably the concern. I always stand back as I pull the strip out of new printer cartridges because of the "poof" of toner that comes out, but I do that mainly to keep it off of my clothing. I'm not really worried about breathing around toner. I think the average person will never be around enough clouds of toner to ever be adversely affected. There are people out there that work with ink and paint powders who come home covered in the stuff every single day. Now THAT I'd be concerned about!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Toner is simply carbon embedded in a polymer and reduced to dust-sized particles. I've worked with it for years and never noticed (or smelled) any fumes. Now, if there is any kind of breeze, those tiny particles (8-10 ┬Ámeter) will go everywhere and can't be vacuumed without a special filter.

yattwood
yattwood

Definitely, Vincent! Some of the _coldest_ places I've ever been were computer rooms - and in Ye Olde Days when I used to work for an aerospace company that had separate classified and unclassified networks, I'd have to go into the classified computer room to actually do my work - reorganizing large IMS (does anyone remember IMS?) databases - 15 hours in a refrigerator, with DASD howling (you young whippersnappers with your blades, your racks, your "black box" computer rooms - you haven't experienced a room with tapes whirring, huge laser printers with the rolls printing, DASD howling, blinking lights, etc, etc). Fortunately, one classified computer room did have a Teradata DBC, so to defrost, I'd go and stand next to it - I've never saw a machine that threw out as much heat as a Teradata - I'm sure the newer ones don't do that....)

kjohnson
kjohnson

You can sing "Workplace shooting rampage" to the tune of "Morningtown Ride." (Rocking, rolling, riding...)

Tommy S.
Tommy S.

Ive heard that we cannot bring our shotgun at work. They said it might scare some people. Especially in Canada. Sometimes I wish I was in Texas.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Somewhere between a split nail and a whole-house explosion and fire.

NexS
NexS

Plead the 5th on his behalf... We don't want anyone in jail now, do we?

Tink!
Tink!

Someone here has to have the link! I did test the binder clip/pen gun on my co-worker :D

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