It may not seem obvious, but working in an office building can be as hazardous to your health as being on a construction site. There are a lot of things that may not seem obviously harmful when you start on your first day, but the more you do them over time, the more they affect your health and well being.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the next time you find yourself sitting at your desk all day. Most of them are quick things that you can do on a daily basis to keep yourself safe, and ensure that you leave your desk every day healthier than when you sat down.
It may seem crazy, but trips and falls are actually the most common injury that happens to office workers. When you work in a large, cushy office building, tripping or falling down seems like something that only a klutz would do. After all, cubicles or rows of desks may be boring, but at least they’re safe. Think again!
One of the top reasons that trips and falls happen so often to office workers, and why they can be so dangerous, is that you don’t expect them. A small patch of loose carpeting, or fallen power cord could result in a debilitating injury for someone who catches it while walking at a rapid pace, or trips and hits another object on their way down to the ground.
To avoid falls or trips like this, keep your workspace clean, and encourage all your office mates to do the same. If you need something from a high shelf, get a ladder or step-stool instead of using your chair.
Repetitive stress injuries are overly common in office buildings where workers are forced to use equipment that is poorly designed, causing strain in places like your hands, wrists, neck, and back.
In the short term, using a poorly designed workstation can cause frequent back aches, and wrist pain. InAfter a few years, these minor ailments become injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis.
Although these problems are incredibly common among office workers, they are easy to avoid if you make a few little adjustments to your daily routine. First, make sure you pick out a desk chair and workstation that fits your body. Ideally, your thighs should be horizontal to the floor, your feet flat on the ground, and your back well supported. While typing, your wrists should be straight and your elbows at a 90 degree angle.
Even if you feel comfortable at your desk, take a few moments every half hour or so to stretch. These few adjustments can save you aches and pains in the long run!
Always lift objects correctly
Even if it doesn’t seem like a very heavy object, taking the time to lift something properly is always a good idea. Lifting anything improperly, even if it’s light, can lead to stress injuries in the most vulnerable parts of your body. Injuries to your neck and spine are notoriously difficult to treat, and can lead to years of pain.
It’s super easy to learn how to lift things properly. Lift an object by first squatting, then grabbing the object, and using your legs (not your back, or neck!) to bring you up to standing height. Holding the load close to your body also helps you balance, especially if you have to carry the object more than a few steps.
Pick a time to go outside every day
Even if it’s only for 5 minutes, going outside at least once a day can ensure that you get enough fresh air – plus, the sunshine will give you a great boost of Vitamin D.
Office workers are vulnerable to what many people are calling “sick building syndrome”, a condition that results when workers are exposed on an ongoing basis to pollutants and toxins that are cycled through poor air conditioning systems.
Avoid sick building syndrome, and ensure that you don’t go completely stir-crazy by using your break time to spend a few moments breathing the outside air. Even if it’s the dead of winter, going outside can instantly elevate your mood and improve your health.
Avoid bright lights for extended periods of time
If you work long hours, chances are you’ve already experienced the confusion that your body can feel when you spend a long time away from natural light. Our workplaces can often be “over-illuminated”, which when the lighting state is brighter than necessary for the task at hand.
Office managers often over-illuminate their buildings to encourage their workers to stay awake and alert, and to compensate for the lack of windows. However, in recent years, reports from doctors have shown that this actually does the opposite.
Over-illumination can cause fatigue, headaches, and stress among workers, and can lead to chronic migraines. To avoid the effects of over-illumination in your workplace, choose a spot by the window if at all possible, and avoid sitting close to fluorescent lights.
Stay away from the printers
Research has found that many industrial office printers emit miniscule quantities of toner while printing, which can be inhaled as ultrafine particles. These particles penetrate all the way to the lungs, and can lead to years of respiratory infections and cardiovascular problems.
Tests showed that during the height of office hours, particle concentration in the air increased by more than 500%. Avoid this problem by situating your desk as far away from the printer as possible, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
If you’re sick, stay home
This one seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many people refuse to stay home from work if they’re not feeling well. Most large companies insist on a doctor’s note if a person needs to use a sick day, and many people don’t want to go through the hassle of waiting around at the walk-in clinic (and exposing themselves to countless more germs in the process), so they often suck it up and head in to work.
Even if you’re able to power through the day, you risk passing your germs along to everyone you work with, which only ensures that your sickness lingers longer. Next time you’re feeling under the weather, but feel bad about dumping more work on your co-workers, ask if you can work on some projects from home.
If you get burned, make sure to get it treated immediately
Burns are one of the top ten workplace injuries, because they can happen in so many different ways. Even if it’s just a steam burn from the kettle or a scalding from some hot soup, treat any burn as if it was serious until a doctor or nurse tells you otherwise.
Burns can easily become infected if left untreated, so make sure to dress it properly, and get it examined by a health professional as soon as possible.
Secure your shelves well
Toppling shelves are another of the top ten most common workplace injuries. Although these incidents many not happen often, they can be incredibly serious depending on the height and weight of the shelves in question.
If you’re involved in a toppling incident, make sure to seek immediate medical attention, even if it doesn’t initially seem serious. Blows to the head may not hurt at all in the first few minutes, or even hours, but they can rapidly devolve into the internal bleeding, swelling, and dizziness that are the initial signs of a traumatic brain injury. Even if the injury seems minor, seek medical attention just to make sure that there are no symptoms that you’re missing.
Use proper techniques when utilizing sharp tools
Even if you don’t work in a factory or construction site where large, sharp tools are common, using any sharp object safely is still an absolute necessity in the workplace. Paper cutters, scissors, or even the innocuous paring knife in the office kitchen can all cause painful and annoying injuries if you don’t use them with caution.
If you do get cut, don’t just laugh it off. Make sure to rinse the injury site well before applying antibacterial ointment and a bandage. If the cut develops red and swollen edges, make sure to see your doctor right away.