When the phrase "workplace health and safety" comes to mind, we think of falling off ladders and forklifts gone awry, not eyestrain from staring into a screen for too long.
Workplace health involves more than just preventing acute injuries and accidents, and here are the five you should be most aware of.
- POSTURE PROBLEMS
It's unsurprising that gadgets such as the Apple Watch continually tell us to stand up and move around: Sitting all day is severely detrimental to our posture and that comes with a strew of health problems, from hip problems to your levels of good cholesterol dropping by 20 per cent. Your biggest risk, however, is lower back pain. According to research by Georgetown University's Centre on an Aging Society in the US, lower back pain is the number one reason workers of all ages call in sick and it can largely be attributed to hunching over a desk. Lower back problems aren't simple to fix, and they can become chronic and affect the rest of your life if left unchecked. Start by being aware of your desk-bound posture, keep your keyboard close and your feet flat on the floor, and ensure you undertake abdominal exercises to strengthen your core at the gym. If pain persists it's time for a chair with lumbar support and potentially some physiotherapy.
- EYE STRAIN
Straining of the eyes – that blurred, dry, or even burning feeling – is the product of looking too closely at your computer screen, the length of time you're required to look at a screen each day, your entire office environment. Computer screens emit blue light and create glare from windows, effectively acting like a mirror for every kind of light in your office. That includes natural light from windows, and the fluorescent overhead lighting that is undoubtedly present in your office. You can begin to tackle eye strain by looking away from your monitor every few minutes, reminding yourself to blink, and taking regular breaks – whether they be to paper-based work, meetings or short walks around the office.
According to a University of Arizona study, the average person's workstation contains more bacteria per square centimetre than a toilet seat. Offices are breeding grounds for bacteria, because they're humid and infrequently cleaned in the dirtiest places. As they place people in close proximity to each other, office layouts also allow for sick people to infect others quickly – as many office workers find when one person brings in a cough, 10 people leave with it a week later. Recirculating office air conditioning accelerates this issue. Disinfecting your own workspace weekly is a must for all office workers, as cleaning staff won't do this. Make it a Friday afternoon job and wipe down everything you touch on your desk, including your keyboard and mouse. You can't do much about others coming to work sick (or the aircon), so ensure you wash your hands frequently.
Chances are you think your job is "stressful" and there's nothing you can do about it, but stress in the workplace easily leads to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and must be taken seriously. Statistics New Zealand asserts that one in five employed people "always" or "often" have work stress, and while a lot of work stress can't be prevented, it can be dealt with efficiently with communication. In large part this is the responsibility of your employer, who needs to create an environment where it's okay to discuss stress without fear of repercussions. As for personal responsibility, it's also key to manage stress properly by having the appropriate outlets, including exercise, socialising with friends and taking advantage of employer-provided counselling services.
- EATING AT YOUR DESK
It doesn't sound like a big deal once or twice, but eating at your desk easily becomes a habit and leads to both physical and mental health problems. Not only is it suggested you'll make poorer food choices, and feel less full after a meal of mindless munching (meaning you'll consume more calories later), eating at your desk has been found to be detrimental for idea generation, work confidence and energy levels, according to University of California, Davis research. The solution to this one is perhaps the easiest. Get up. Eat in the lunchroom or outside. And suggest to your employer all workspaces be "food free" zone
Lee Suckling has a master's degree specialising in personal-health reporting.
EAP Services offers seminars and workshops along with Individual one-on-one counselling. We have a team of specialists available to assist with specific areas of concerns. For further information please contact EAP Services on 0800 327 669.