Sick office syndrome

You've heard of sick building syndrome? Now sick office syndrome could be coming to an office near you!

Does the nine-to-five day leave you feeling exhausted, irritable and generally unhealthy? Maybe it's not the workload that's getting you down - it could be your office itself.

Offices generally aren't very healthy places – one employee is struck down with flu and within a week it's an office epidemic. The aircon leaves you feeling like a prune and the computer strains your eyes, while the toxic fumes emitted from the paint, carpets and furniture could slowly be poisoning you.

Here are 10 easy ways to safeguard your office and yourself:

  1. Natural light is best, so move your desk near a window or install daylight bulbs.
  2. Ventilation is essential to a healthy office, so open a window; in winter, at least leave the window open for five minutes before work and during lunch.
  3. Your laptop, PC, photocopier and fax machine are all classified as "electrical equipment." This means that when switched on they (and you) are surrounded by potentially harmful electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) that have been linked to hypertension, anxiety and general malaise. So switch them off when you're not using them.
  4. Position life-enhancing plants next to your computer. NASA scientists have found that certain common indoor plants, such as Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Seifritzii), Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) and Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are capable of absorbing potentially harmful gases and pollutants, such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichlorethylene from the air inside modern buildings. The green colour will also soothe your PC-weary eyes and bring a bit of nature into the concrete jungle.
  5. Minimise the use of airconditioners and heaters; rather wear more (or less) clothing, or have ceiling fans installed.
  6. Make sure that smoking colleagues only puff away in the smoking room or outside. The extractor fan in the smoking room should be checked and serviced regularly, and the ashtrays should be emptied often.
  7. Have ionizers installed to improve air quality. Having a fish tank is also a great way of balancing the humidity in the office.
  8. If you want to redecorate your office, use only non-toxic paints and solvents. Go for fabrics, furniture and carpets that have not been treated with chemicals.
  9. Ask the cleaners to use environmentally friendly and non-toxic cleaning agents.
  10. If you are computer-bound, look up every 20 minutes and focus on something in the distance for a few seconds; this will take some of the strain off your eyes.
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