WORK-LIFE BALANCE / FEB. 04, 2016
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5 Surprising Health Hazards Lurking in the Office

We’ve all had one of those days when we just wanted to skip work; there’s no denying it. Perhaps you had too much to drink the night before or you don’t want to deal with your micromanaging boss, or maybe even you just want to stay home and play Grand Theft Auto V all day. But someone’s got to pay the bills, keep a roof over your head, and put food on the table, and that someone is you, so you have no choice but to troop into the office for another mind-numbingly crappy day comprised of filing expense reports and dealing with the office’s crazy cat lady.

See Also: 5 Key Health Issues in the Workplace

But if you’re really considering calling in sick today, you might want to quit your job and move to an isolated place far, far away from society after reading this article, because there are five surprising – and potentially deadly – health hazards in the workplace that are reason enough to keep you away from the office for good.

1. Office Air

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and everyone feels like singing John Paul Young’s “Love Is in the Air”. But after reading this, you’ll probably think that a change of lyrics to “Death Is in the Air” is a little more appropriate because occupational asthma is a thing. In other words, if you find yourself coughing, sneezing, and wheezing through every client meeting and performance review, you could very well be allergic to your work.

Hippocrates, often referred to as the Father of Western Medicine, was the first person to use the term “occupational asthma” and he believed tailors, anglers, and metalworkers were more likely to be affected by the disease. Today, however, it can also be encountered in farms, offices, and medical settings.

The National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that it affects 15% of American adults and that more than 250 substances are believed to cause occupational asthma, including latex gloves, spray paints, adhesives, wood dust, chemicals used in manufacturing, animals, insects, and cleaning products.

2. Energy-Saving Bulbs

Man sitting under light bulb
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In a world plagued by the disastrous effects that climate change and global warming can bring, more and more companies are becoming concerned with reducing their carbon footprint. And one way they’re doing that is with the introduction of compact fluorescent light bulbs.

These light bulbs are energy-saving little miracles; in fact, they can save up to 75% more energy and can last up to 10 times longer than their incandescent light bulb counterparts. However, as with everything else, there’s a downside to going green.

A Stony Brook University study found that CFL bulbs emitted significant ultraviolet A and C rays which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings. The research team, led by Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, then studied the effects of UVA and UVC exposure on healthy human skin tissue cells and concluded that the results were “consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation” which is a major risk factor for most skin cancers. Incandescent light with the same intensity was also tested but had no harmful effects on healthy skin cells.

3. Free Candy

Young woman eating cotton candy
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Everybody loves candy. And everybody loves free candy even more. But free candy could be the reason behind your expanding waistline.

In his book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Cornell University Food and Brand Lab director Brian Wansink explains that we are more likely to eat an average nine candies, or an extra 225 calories, each day when the candy dish is within arm’s reach; six candies when they’re stored in our desk drawers; and only four candies if they’re six feet away. In other words, the further away we are from the candy and less inconvenient it is, the less likely we are to stuff our mouths.

The closer we are, on the other hand, can amount to gaining 17 pounds within a year. Besides being a leading contributor to obesity, too much sugar can also cause tooth decay, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer.

4. Communal Coffee Pot

Woman drinking coffee
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Norovirus. Doesn’t sound nice, does it? And that’s because it isn’t. Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans. It causes vomiting, stomach pain and, as Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, watery diarrhea. The bug is highly contagious and can be contracted by touching an infected person or by coming into contact with contaminated food or water. Its favorite hiding spots? Daycare centers, nursing homes, and business offices – more specifically, your office’s communal coffee pot.

Viruses like the norovirus can spread like wildfire in crowded indoor establishments within just two to four hours, according to Charles Gerba and Stephanie Boone from the University of Arizona. What’s even more frightening is that severe cases of norovirus lead to over 200,000 deaths each year. Perhaps it’s time to give up coffee altogether.

5. Male Coworkers

Office worker eating at desk
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Do you share an office with your coworker Amanda but can sometimes feel someone’s eyes on you when you know for a fact it’s not her? Well, that’s probably because those eyes belong to over 500 types of bacteria that have set up house in your office. And no, that was not a typo – five hundred types of bacteria. While sharing an office with any coworker puts you at great risk of exchanging germs, it gets far much worse when Amanda is actually a man (Get it? A man, duh?)

Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Arizona came to the conclusion that men’s offices are populated by 10% to 20% more bacteria than in women’s. And that’s mostly because men are “somewhat less hygienic than women”, especially after considering the fact that men don’t exactly pay much attention to washing their hands after using the restroom. And yes, they found traces of poop at workers’ workstations.

Sharing is caring, Mark, but come on! As if women needed another reason to hate men!

See Also: 6 Work-Related Stressors That Can Affect Your Health

After reading this article, I suspect that sales of alcohol hand gel, bleach, and hazmat suits will have drastically gone up in your area. And, truth be told, I don’t blame you.

If you can think any other surprising health hazards lurking in the office, do let us know in the comments section below! And if there’s a germophobe or hypochondriac in your life, don’t forget to share this article with them!

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