Ten Things Your Office Will Not Say

Posted by M ws On Tuesday, January 15, 2013 0 comments
1. “You’re not as safe here as you might think.”

Cubicle dwellers might think that their desk jobs, if boring, are at least danger-free, but there are real occupational hazards at the office: There were 286 fatalities in administrative and support jobs in 2011, for instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (versus 721among people working construction).

Surprisingly, though — despite the lurking danger that increases in office security over the years might imply — the most common cause of death had nothing to do with office-security threats. Rather, they involved slipping, tripping or falling, which often happens when employees climb furniture or bookshelves attempting to reach files or other objects, says Dwayne Towles, an occupational safety and health consultant. On rare occasions, of course, Americans go to the office to never return home for more dramatic reasons, succumbing to tragedies ranging from violent homicides to freak accidents. Still, most offices witness less excitement: Real estate and law offices had only 10 deaths each in 2011. “The incident rates are low in an office environment, but that doesn’t mean people don’t get hurt,” Towles says.

2. “Feeling run down? Blame the building.”

Desk jockeys commonly joke that work makes them sick. But sometimes, they’re correct. An indefinite feeling of illness might actually be caused by the office itself. Occupational health consultants term the phenomenon “sick building syndrome” — though experts say they have learned to take the phrase with a grain of salt. Mold, odors, inadequate ventilation, chemicals and other pollutants can cause real symptoms such as headaches, coughs and fatigue while employees are at the office, usually going away when they return home. Such problems often stem from moisture trapped in walls during construction, which can plague newly constructed buildings as well as old. (Staring at screens can also cause something called computer vision syndrome, a condition where employees’ eyes become dry and tired, and that may be linked to glaucoma.) And while it’s currently trendy for companies to repurpose historic buildings like fire stations or grist mills into office space, it may make matters worse, as outdated HVAC systems can cause problems if not retrofitted properly, says Everett Mount, president of Safety Synergy, a New Jersey-based occupational health consulting company. “Sick building doesn’t really mean old building,” says Towles.

But some experts say employee sickness may often be psychological, with workers’ stress and frustration (say, fear of layoffs) manifesting as physical symptoms — and paranoia can quickly spread across the office. “I’ve seen people using indoor air quality to get out of a place where they don’t want to be,” says Mount, who has investigated a few buildings top-to-bottom following worker complaints and found no problem whatsoever. “’Sick building syndrome,’” he says,“is grossly overused.”

3. “You’re sitting on your worst enemy.”

Before you blame your health problems on your boss or back-stabbing co-worker, consider that the culprit might be right beneath you. Experts say the most dangerous aspect of an office job might be the simple fact that most people sit while doing it: “There’s nothing else I can think of that is impacting more people than sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, who studies the physiology of inactivity at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Studies suggest that the body loses 20% to 25% of its good cholesterol and becomes insulin-resistant in a full day of sitting, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity — and death.

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A look at 2012's unemployment data shows it was a good year to be a metal worker or a credit analyst. Photo: Bloomberg.

The bad news: Recent research has shown that no amount of exercise can counteract the health damage caused by sitting, and people who exercise spend just as much time sitting as those who don’t. Plus, despite a booming ergonomics industry, which makes equipment specially designed to make people more comfortable at their desks (chairs that reduce lower-back pain and keyboards that ease carpal tunnel symptoms, for example), experts say the high-tech — and often expensive — gadgets can’t solve the problem that workers are chained to their chairs. Even desks allowing people to stand while they work aren’t a sustainable alternative to sitting: “After a while, they don’t use it; they just sit,” says Jos Verbeek of the Finnish Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

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