Keeping healthy at work

Could your office be making you sick? There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that your work environment may be the cause of health problems, and scientists believe they now have the facts to prove it.

By Donna Fleming

Are poor conditions at work making you suffer?

Let there be light
Working in an office with no natural light can affect alertness and energy levels, leaving you more likely to be grumpy and struggling for sleep. Neuroscientists at Oxford University say the best place to sit is next to a window. Exposure to natural light, especially on a bright day, helps regulate sleep, boost your mood, improve brain function and raise productivity. People exposed to bright natural light may be twice as alert as colleagues working under artificial ones. Less than five percent of daylight filters into the average building, and energy-efficient bulbs mean we are exposed to far less intense light. That intensity is measured in lux, and while a sunny day is equivalent to 100,000 lux, indoor lighting only provides around 300 lux. Around 1000 lux a day is said to help regulate body clocks.

Sitting pretty
Poorly set-up desks and chairs may cost companies millions of dollars in sick pay every year. A British survey found that half of all office workers say their workplace has made them ill, and 75% blame the furniture.They said they ended up
with back pain, headaches and depression, and 20% believed it resulted in them missing nearly three weeks of work a year.Doctors say poor posture and spending hours sitting in uncomfortable positions can impact on health. It not only means you miss work, but also impacts negatively on home life. This can result in ongoing pain and discomfort, and for some people can lead to a reliance on antidepressants or painkillers. The ergonomics specialists who carried out the survey say it’s vital that all workers have annual workstation risk assessments, and ergonomic accessories if needed.

Email anxiety
They’re a vital part of life, but new research shows a direct link between email use and stressed employees. Emails – especially irrelevant or urgent ones – can send stress levels soaring. UK researchers tracked the blood pressure, heart rates and levels of the stress hormone cortisol of staff at a government agency. They found their blood pressure and heart rates went up, and their bodies produced more cortisol, when they sent or read emails. If these classic signs of stress continue over time, they can lead to long-term health conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, heart failure and coronary artery disease.

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