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Is your distress a result of your working environment?

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th January 2005 03:00 AM

There are days when most of us probably feel that working is bad for our health, and more research seems to back this up.

There are days when most of us probably feel that working is bad for our health, and more research seems to back this up. The latest problem, according to the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), is the “work hoarse” affliction - voice loss among office workers. Other new research has found our eyes may be more at risk than we had previously thought, with excessive computer use found to be jeopardising our sight. Then there are the more traditional problems, notably repetitive strain injury (RSI) and back problems.

l Voice loss
A new TUC report warns that the combination of bugs and germs, air-conditioned offices and jobs that place a strain on employees’ vocal cords could prove disastrous for workers who rely on their voices to do their jobs. These include teachers, sales staff, receptionists, counsellors and instructors.
Low humidity, stress, tiredness, poor office air quality, or chemicals like chlorine and organic solvents that are common in many workplaces are some of the predisposing factors. The problem tends to be exacerbated during the season for coughs and colds.
RSI is best known for affecting the writs, is in fact much further-reaching, the damage can travel right up to the neck, shoulders and back.
To help prevent the onset of RSI, office staff can make simple changes like adjusting their chairs and re-organising their workspaces. Hugh Robertson, the head of health and safety at the TUC, adds that keyboard training is also advisable. “It’s not so much the fact that more of us are typing that is causing so much RSI, but that over 90% of typists use just two fingers instead of eight and two thumbs, thereby increasing the strain the repetitive motion places on your body.”

l Eye problems
Spending too much time looking at a computer screen may raise your risk of the vision-robbing eye disease glaucoma, particularly if you are nearsighted, according to a new study of 10,000 Japanese workers. “Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve, and the optic nerve in short-sighted eyes may be more vulnerable to computer stress than it is in normal eyes,” says Dr. Masayuki tatemichi of Japan’s Toho University Medical School. The scientists believe public health professionals need to address the issue, particularly as more people are using computers.
Research from the Australian National University of Canberra found that short-sightedness can be caused by excessive computer use. Take Singapore, where around 80% of teenagers are myopic, up from 25% just 30 years ago. Children there now spend a lot of time focusing on close objects like books for studying and computers for working and playing games. But Christopher Hammond of St. Thomas’ hospital in London points out that short-sightedness tends to be genetic. “Only the genetic argument can explain why the remaining 20% of the people in the Singapore study are not myopic, when they had a similar education.

l Back pain
Many back problems are caused or exacerbated by working conditions –– chairs at the wrong height, PCs positioned incorrectly and employees not being taught how to lift correctly. “We find a lot of people are given good ergonomic chairs, but are not taught how to adjust them. Many modern officers have designer chairs that look fantastic, but are rubbish for your back, “Hugh Robertson at the TUC points out.
According to BackCare, the worst treatment is painkillers. “They mask the symptom and don’t deal with the cause, as well as being addictive,” says Byrne. Perhaps it’s time to expand the traditional New Year’s resolution to embrace a healthier lifestyle and this year promise to overhaul the office as well as take out that annual membership of the gym.

Is your distress a result of your working environment?

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