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A guide to workplace health risks

Close up of flat, modern, and stylish working placeWorking in an office environment used to be considered “low risk”, but not anymore! We are now exposed to a variety of health risks, whether we know it or not. The regular and repetitive actions involved, combined with improper posture, stress, workstation design and environmental factors like lighting condition and low humidity, can cause serious strains, fatigues and injuries.

Back Problems – Most office workers spend a large amount of time at a desk, usually on seats that are not ideal from a health perspective. This can result in problems of the back, ranging from mild to severe backache, especially that of the lower spine.

Bacteria – Our desks are breeding grounds for bacteria.

  • Phones are the dirtiest, followed by computers, mouse devices and stationery.
  • Food remnants and other dust particles can get lodged in between the keys of computer keyboards, proliferating under the hot, cozy conditions to pose a hazard to users.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Tendons or ligaments of the wrist become enlarged, compressing the nerves and causing pain and numbness in the wrists and fingers.

  • The pain may eventually extend to the arm, shoulder and neck, rendering the entire hand weak.
  • Possible causes include any type of activity that involves prolonged, highly repetitive wrist motions, such as excessive typing or computer work.
  • Other conditions that may contribute are rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure, diabetes mellitus, obesity, acromegaly, multiple myelomas and bacterial or fungal infection that has spread to the carpal tunnel.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome – The cubital tunnel is located on the inside of the elbow. The main symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome are feelings of discomfort in the elbow area along the inside of the arm, discomfort in the hand as well as numbness or tingling in the little finger, ring finger, or along the back or side of the hand.

  • It can progress to cause loss of grip strength and reduction in the size of muscles near the little finger.
  • It can be caused by highly repetitive actions that result in compression of the nerve near the elbow.

De Quervain’s Syndrome – This syndrome is an inflammation of the thumb tendons resulting in discomfort along the thumb side of the wrist.

  • A common symptom is discomfort along the back of the thumb and swelling at the base of the thumb and may travel up into the forearm. Moving the thumb may become difficult and painful, particularly when pinching or grasping objects.
  • Overuse of the thumb tendons due to repetitive actions is a common cause of De Quervain’s Syndrome.

Eyestrain – Today, computers allow many tasks, such as typing, reading, writing and filing, to be performed from a single station. This reduces the amount of natural ‘breaks’ for one’s eyes and increases the risk of eyestrain.

  • Air conditioners, airborne paper dust and contaminants contribute to eye and vision disorders in an office environment.
  • Computer users blink less and have increased ocular surface exposure due to horizontal viewing of the screen, which can increase the tendency for eyes to become dry.
  • Eyestrain can manifest itself as dry eye syndrome; eye strain or fatigue; blurred vision; burning, itching or tearing eyes; affect colour vision; and/or tired or irritated eyes.

Musculo-Skeletal Conditions – Problems of discomfort associated with neck, shoulders, arms and hands (including wrists and fingers) are common among office workers who use computers for prolonged periods.

  • Such problems can range from temporary fatigue to mild tissue soreness to chronic soft tissue disorders.
  • Prolonged static posture (of the neck and back), awkward positioning of hands (including wrists and fingers), physical stress caused by heavy workload or tight deadlines, and mental stress are just some of the possible causes for these problems.

Stress – A stress response is triggered when demands exceed an individual’s ability to cope with them.

  • Psychological effects: strong negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression and irritation
  • Physiological effects: negative impact on nervous, circulatory, musculo-skeletal and immune systems
  • Behavioural effects: being prone to mistakes and accidents, absenteeism and even addiction

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – The thoracic outlet is the narrow space that runs between the collarbone, the first rib, and neck muscles. It is a condition in which the nerves and blood vessels in this region are compressed.

  • Symptoms are progressive, including numbness and tingling in the arm or hand; swelling or lack of blood circulation to the hand, leaving it feeling cold; pain or discomfort in the hand or arm; and weakness or fatigue of the hand or arm muscles.
  • Repetitive activities involving a head-forward posture or drooped shoulders may lead to this condition.

In an era where technology controls most of our tasks, where we live by timelines and speed is the key to survival, it’s hardly surprising to find our lifestyles changing for the worse and ailments springing up. The tagline in today’s competitive world is “Keep Up or Perish”. But don’t get so caught up with ‘keeping up’ that you ignore your body’s ‘alarm bells’! Be aware of what is happening in your body, and take timely preventive or remedial measures to ensure your well-being and happiness.

Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 31 2015. Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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