There’s a big possibility that your workplace is making you sick. Since most waking hours of an employee are spent in office, it increases the exposure to germs in and around the workstation—from keyboards, phones and desks, to mouse. The other probable places that aid in the transfer of microbes are washroom sink-faucet handles, microwave or refrigerator door handles, water fountain buttons, and vending machine buttons.
In congested office spaces, people work and interact with each other at proximity, unwittingly helping in the transfer of such microorganisms. “The air in the closed space environment is filled with airborne viral or bacterial outbreaks. This is especially true during the influenza season. You report to work despite flu symptoms since you have a deadline to meet. You may become the best employee of the year, but inadvertently you have passed on the infection to your boss and a dozen other colleagues,” says Dr Monica Mahajan, Medical Director, Max Multi-speciality Centre, New Delhi.
In no time half the workforce ends up coughing, sneezing, red-eyed with conjunctivitis. These are the mildest, but the most frequent sights in offices. There’s also a score of the invisible illnesses that workplaces enlist. “Loud noise exposure from machines and headsets are impacting hearing and increasing irritability. Irritable bowel syndrome with gaseous distension, altered bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation) has become a frequently diagnosed condition. Sleep deprivation and deadlines for projects are causing anxiety, mood swings, marital discords, broken marriages and infertility issues,” explains Dr Mahajan.
The lack of sunlight in a closed and incubated environment leads to severe Vitamin D deficiency in workers. Dr Harshad Limaye, of Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, adds, “Infection in closed environment happens when people with respiratory infections are working in the same space. Some diseases like Legionella Pneumonia and TB can spread through air-conditioning units if they are not
Air-conditioning vents are also known to spread air-borne bacteria, fungal spores and viruses. While chickenpox is a childhood illness, adult workers who are not immune from a previous attack or vaccination may also contract it. “To prevent these incidents, air circulation in a facility is critical. Individuals with chickenpox should not attend work till all regions scab. People with lung tuberculosis should abstain from work for at least two weeks,” says Dr Pratik
Patil, consultant in Infectious Diseases, Fortis Hospitals, Bengaluru. “Thick wall-to-wall carpets, curtains and old files harbour dust mites and may aggravate asthma while the incidence of tuberculosis is higher among staff working in crowded offices,” he says, adding how fumes and toxic chemical exposure at work damage the lungs irreversibly. “Smoking due to peer pressure may help one mingle with the crowd but can potentially lead to cancer. Passive smoking is also a risk factor for the same,” he warns.
Other common complaints that are often reported by office-goers are migraines, neck and back pain, all of which are the bane of prolonged working hours spent perched in front of the monitors, rotating shifts and disrupted sleep cycles. “Badly-lit workstations or unergonomic chairs and keyboards also lead to eye strain and headaches, and ‘computer vision syndrome’. Mechanical back pain may ultimately result in spondylosis and disc disease,” says Dr Mahajan.
Not just infections, long office hours added to the time spent in commuting often sap one’s energy and result in a sedentary lifestyle. This causes pounds of fat to deposit in the body, which then leads to lifestyle disorders in working professionals. “At the end of the day, the inclination to exercise is missing. Work has become so much of a priority that health and wellbeing have taken a backseat. It is time to make a change in our daily habits if we want to remain healthy,” concludes Dr Mahajan.
Prevention and Precaution
❖ Use tissues, handkerchiefs while coughing or sneezing
❖ Hand hygiene training and supplies, including soap, sanitiser, paper towels and tissues in the workplace, are a must
❖ Develop an exercise routine or pick up a hobby
❖ Look up a fitness centre, which is open till late if your office does not have a gym
❖ Think before you smoke: is it worth it?
❖ Seek professional help if you are suffering from chronic fatigue, low self-esteem or mood swings
❖ Check your sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, etc at regular intervals