Some professions make it easy to see how work can have a negative effect on a person’s health. Think about coal workers toiling away in dank and filthy mines. A crumbling mineshaft is the least of their worries with poor air quality posing a constant threat to lung health. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, also known as the Black Lung, claimed 25,000 lives in 2013. Firefighters, construction workers, lion tamers…there are a lot of dangerous jobs out there.
But you don’t have to be a lion tamer, or work with heavy machinery, or labor in a coal mine for your work to pose a risk to your health. Work that doesn’t seem especially dangerous can often have more of an impact on your health because you’re not anticipating the potential dangers. A lion tamer knows to stay away from the sharp, dangerous claws and teeth of a lion, but office workers typically don’t regard their rolly chairs as being especially dangerous or sinister.
Most people who work in an office building, where a paper cut is the biggest threat to one’s safety, wouldn’t consider their job to be dangerous. But your job doesn’t have to be glaringly dangerous for it to have negative affects on your health. The health risks of office work often go unnoticed, but they have the potential to be quite serious.
Office work can lead to high levels of stress. Stress can lead to a number of negative affects on both your physical and mental health. Headaches, muscle tension, and depression are just a few of the possible symptoms caused by stress.
All of that stress can also lead to unhealthy eating habits, such as overeating, or seeking stress relief in the form of unhealthy comfort foods. For this reason, stress is sometimes associated with hypertension and diabetes.
Work can also cause sleep deprivation. Stress may keep you from getting proper sleep, or maybe you’re working 60 hour work weeks, burning the midnight oil trying to meet deadlines. Maybe you’re trying to stay awake even though you’re sleep-deprived by chugging coffee by the pot full or guzzling energy drinks. That just makes it harder to get to sleep when night comes, creating a vicious circle of fatigue. Chronic sleep loss can lead to a number of adverse affects on your health.
Humans weren’t made to sit and stare at a screen all day. Jobs that have you behind a desk for 8 hours a day can cause some serious damage to your neck, shoulders, and spine. This is especially true when you hunch over. Back pain is the main reason Americans miss work and the second most common reason we visit the doctor, and back pain can be the result of extended hours of desk work.
In fact, just sitting for too many hours is a health risk.
The buildings we work in can pose dangers, too. The casual shared kitchen area probably doesn’t have the safety-minded set up of a professional kitchen, and can be the site of cuts, burns, and food poisoning from the tuna fish sandwich that stayed too long in the office fridge. It’s also a great place to pick up infectious diseases.
Poor ventilation can make workers vulnerable to off-gassing of chemicals, poorly-designed workstations lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, and overloaded shelves can fall on people. This isn’t the entire list of office dangers, either.
The point here is not to make you scared to go to work in the morning. The point is that health and safety concerns exist in just about any job, and awareness is the most important part of staying safe. Occupational health is important even if you’re not a lion tamer.
As long as you’re aware of the potential dangers of office work, you can take the appropriate steps you need to stay healthy.