You wake up, you feel fine, you get to work and then you sneeze and cough all day. Ever feel like you’re allergic to your office? Well it’s very possible that you may well be. Work-induced allergy is fairly simple to diagnose: the symptoms get worse as the workday progresses, and they ease after you leave.
This is due to the fact that our indoor workplace air is can be polluted by adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machine chemicals, pesticides and cleaning agents which can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been known to trigger allergy symptoms.
Occupational Asthma has become the most common work-related lung disease in developed countries. However, the exact number of newly diagnosed cases of asthma in adults due to occupational exposure is unknown. Up to 15% of asthma cases in the United States may be job-related. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one out of four new or renovated indoor buildings in the U.S. may be classified as “sick buildings.”
Here are some of the reasons why you may be feeling under the weather when you get to your desk:
Poor Indoor Air
You may be spending up to ten hours per day breathing in poor quality air, and the physical effects on your body can include: headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, itchy eyes, and respiratory illnesses, among other problems.
The air in your workplace is at risk from contamination due to inadequate ventilation. Ventilation systems can be a source of indoor pollution by spreading biological contaminants that have developed in cooling towers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, or the inside surfaces of ventilation duct work. Improperly located outdoor air intake vents can prevent outdoor air from reaching the breathing space of workers, and can also act to bring in carbon monoxide from car exhausts, boiler emissions, fumes from dumpsters, or air vented from restrooms.
Furthermore, most likely, if you’re an office worker, your windows are sealed shut, and you’re simply not getting enough fresh air. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers recommend that ventilation systems pump in 20 cubic feet of fresh air per minute for every person in office spaces. In many cases, however, building operators pump in only 5 cubic feet — giving the building air the appeal of a long-distance plane flight.
Building related diseases can present symptoms such as; coughing, throat irritation, nausea and headaches. Building-related diseases are those which can be traced to a specific cause, such as colds that spread through an office, allergies and asthma brought on by dust or mold, or even cancer triggered by pesticides or asbestos.
If you feel that your illnesses are only present at work, speak up and have your building investigated. Headaches and nausea could be caused by carbon monoxide coming in through poor ventilation systems. Itching can be attributed to exposure to fibrous glass from air duct linings and coughing could be due to harsh chemical emissions from cleaning products. Respiratory problems can be traced to water damage in the building and contaminated humidifiers.
Stress related ailments
Are your symptoms linked to being overworked and under pressure? It’s always important to remember that work-related stress can bring present physical symptoms including: low energy, headaches, upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea, aches, pains, and tense muscles, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, and frequent colds and infections.
Doctors suggest that stress is the causative factor of illness underlying more than 70 percent of all visits to the family doctor. Unmanaged stress can also result in low-productivity, poor work quality, conflict between co-workers and absenteeism.
How to beat workplace illness
If you feel that your symptoms have been caused by poor ventilation, ensure you take the necessary steps to prevent blocking of air vents, remove garbage promptly to prevent odors and contamination, keep eating areas clean to avoid attracting pests (which have been linked to respiratory problems).
If you or your co-workers are experiencing health issues that you think may be related to your work environment, speak with your building personnel to investigate potential issues and find the cause of the problems.
If your sickness is possibly linked to a physical presentation of workplace stress, work to find ways to eliminate your stress, either through better time management or through simply ensuring you eat and sleep better.