Since I work in an office, and many other people who read this blog do too, to a certain extent, I thought it would be quite fitting to freak everyone out with a post highlighting the dangers of working in an office. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little with the headline and the opener, but I am going to present you a short list of things that you should be aware of when you are working in an office environment. Don’t hate me for this, thank you.
One: The Coffee Pot
If your office has a coffee machine which dispenses straight into your cup, then no worries. But if everyone uses a communal pot, then we might have an issue. Some research has found that coffee pots have a tendency to have high levels of Norovirus, which is a food-borne virus that can cause vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhoea and fever. Major ouchies indeed.
Two: Male Co-Workers
Firstly, having colleagues means that there is always a risk of them spreading germs to you. That’s a fact. However, scientists at two American Universities have found that male-dominated offices tends to have 10-20% more bacteria than female-dominated offices. One of the reasons cited is that men are not as vigilant or pedantic when it comes to personal hygiene than women. Not surprising given how we are socialised in patriarchal societies, right? Another point they raised is that since men are generally larger in size, that’s more surface area to harbour bacteria. Yep, boys are gross.
Three: The Computer Screen
You can’t escape from this one, and that is a fact. Constantly looking at a computer screen can give you headaches, dry out your eyes and blur your vision. I suffered from this badly during my first week in my new office environment, especially since I was moving to a bigger screen. Since this can’t be avoided, the best things you can do are to sit away from vents, take frequent rest breaks and adjust the screen till it’s eye-level.
Four: Green Office Plans
Sounds good, but might be not-so-good. Although green offices are meant to reduce energy costs and be more environmentally-friendly, it does come with its unique set of problems. The most obvious one is that sealing off areas to keep the heat in means that everything is trapped inside. This makes people, particularly asthmatics, at higher risk of falling ill. They call this exposure to indoor air pollution “Sick Building Syndrome”, or “Building Related Illnesses” if its effects resume outside the work environment.
Five: Open Office Plans
If green office plans are bad, then open office plans must be good, right? Wrong. Open office plans also comes with its share of issues and challenges. Having a common space may build teams up, but the increased noise level and lack of privacy is not always a welcome thing. It might work better for some, but not others, according to studies published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Suckered into such an environment and hate it? Wear headphones or ear buds to keep noise out, within reason of course.
Six: Office Air
Back to the point of “Sick Building Syndrome”, this is a very real thing, and is characterised by people feeling unwell only when in the office. Some of the causes may be formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, adhesives, spray paints and other irritants to the respiratory system. And of course cold and flu bugs are also flying all over the place. Yucks.
Seven: Office Temperature
Just as significant as the point above, working in a warm office can reduce productivity and increase accident risk. Warm air in meeting rooms can put people to sleep even faster than the contents of the meeting, and this also increases the risk of bad decisions being made. Cold offices can probably have the same effect.
Eight: Office Accidents
Yes, accidents are everywhere. But if you are spending many hours each day in an office, the chances of you having an accident there compared to other places would be increased. Complacency is also part of the equation. Unlike mine sites and industrial areas, the occupational health and safety team, if there is one, is probably a lot less vigilant in a “safe” office environment. However, office workers are not immune to tripping, falling and muscle strains. Your risk will increase if you are stressed and tired, as you are more likely to let your guard down.
Some office spaces have a candy dish that’s really convenient to swipe at. While it may be convenient, increased consumption of sweets can also conveniently increase your waistline. An article published in the International Journal of Obesity estimated that this can result in an increase of between 3 and 7 kilos each year. I personally think it might have been exaggerated, but that’s just the scientist in me talking.
Ten: Workplace Bullying
This one is a mental rather than physical aspect of office life. However, we all know that mental effects can manifest in poor physical health too. Bullying is not only a problem in childhood, but also in an office workplace where people are stressed, have to meet deadlines, and engage in petty personal politics. A recent study even estimated that one out of four workers feel bullied, even though the definition is not clear-cut. If you feel that you are being bullied, do something about it as soon as you are able to.
So what is the moral of the story? Everything is out to get you. No, of course not. But in all seriousness, knowing what the potential hazards in the office are, and being vigilant about it can save you a world of headache later. I hope this article helps you in some way.
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