Survey looks at workplace allergies

2015-06-10 06:00

A STAGGERING 3,6 million South African office workers could be experiencing increased allergy symptoms in the workplace.

That is according to the results of a survey conducted by prevention-minded allergy pharmaceutical firm, Pharma Dynamics, that was just released. Of the 1 300 survey respondents polled nationally, more than a quarter indicated that their allergies worsened when at the office, while almost half (42%) took time off work because of their allergies.

Wilmi Hudsonberg, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, blames poor ventilation and lack of cleanliness for increased allergy symptoms in South African office environments.

“Many studies have been done in the past around Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), a condition which focuses on the frequency of illness-related symptoms in buildings due to improper climate control and chemical exposure.

“Pharma Dynamics set out to determine to what extent the office environment actually impacts the health of allergy sufferers,” she says.

According to the statement released by LANGE360 Strategic Communications, the most reported allergy symptoms at work include a blocked or stuffy nose (62%), headache (61%), runny nose (54%), unexplained fatigue (52%), itchy or watery eyes (52%), dry throat (37%) and breathing difficulties (16%).

“The management of allergies becomes much more difficult when in a shared office environment where one has little control, so it is not surprising that so many have experienced an allergic reaction at work. Considering that most of us spend more than eight hours in the office a day, it’s helpful to know where exactly the allergy hotspots are in the office.”

According to Hudsonberg, both the printer and photocopier emit fumes which could be harmful. Almost half (47%) of respondents that participated in Pharma Dynamics’ survey indicated that they sit less than one metre away from a printer and 33% sit in close proximity of a photocopier.

A staggering 77% said their offices were not well-ventilated.

“Fresh air is vital to the health of office workers, so ensure that windows are opened (where it doesn’t pose a safety risk) and/or that fresh air trickles in through air vents or allergy-approved air conditioning units. While over half (53%) of survey participants reported that their office is air conditioned, it is important to note that many of these units aren’t adequate. To allergy-proof your air conditioner, check that it captures airborne allergens, and ensure that it is cleaned and serviced regularly, otherwise it can pollute the air.

“Equally hazardous to allergy sufferers is dust mite, which thrives on carpets, blinds, curtains and other soft furnishings. Books too can collect dust mite.” More than 55% of respondents said their workplace had carpeted floors and 35% had open bookshelves,” she says.

The ideal office flooring, according to Hudsonberg is solid flooring, such as hardwood, linoleum or tiles since it is easy to clean and does not trap allergens. She further recommends that office plants are kept to a minimum as mould can grow on top of the soil.

Hudsonberg warns that even a colleague can set off an allergic reaction. “With many modern-day offices being open-plan, we are exposed to colleagues who live with pets or reside in areas where pollen counts are high.”

Of those surveyed, 59% suffer from rhinitis, 28% reacts to dust mite, 21% have food allergies, 18% suffer from eczema and 19% have asthma.

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