5 Ways Your Office Could Be Making You Sick

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Downtown Louisville is experiencing a real estate boom, thanks in part to a sustainability partnership between the Louisville Metro Government and Portland State University’s Urban Sustainability Accelerator program. As a part of this initiative, new office spaces are being built in Old Louisville’s South Broadway district.

These new offices are less likely to contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, black mold, and refuse from lead pipes, all of which are found in older buildings. But, they may be the culprits of other ailments that could affect workers during the 8.9 hour daily average the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that workers spend in the office. Here are five ways your office could be making you sick.

An Ineffective Air System The heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems at your job may be harming you rather than supplying you and your co-workers with comfortable working conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that contaminated air filters, poorly designed ventilation systems, and outdoor air pollutants filtered through the HVAC system are major contributors to respiratory issues and other environmental illnesses in office buildings.

Disruptive Drywall Drywall contains the chemical formaldehyde, a commercial preservative. If your office has undergone a recent renovation, new panes of drywall laced with formaldehyde may be the cause of sore throat, headaches, nosebleeds, and topical skin irritations. Formaldehyde has also been found to cause cancer.

Lights That Make You Lightheaded Unfortunately, many offices today lack an infusion of natural light. Instead, the workspace is illuminated by cylindrical fluorescent bulbs. While known for their energy efficiency, fluorescent lights and other forms of bright lighting, such as computer screens, are the cause of a disorder known as Irlen syndrome, or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. The Irlen Institute reports that this illness affects light sensitivity and disrupts the brain’s normal processing functions. It can result in poor comprehension, low motivation, fatigue, concentration, and the inability to sit still.

A Caustic Carpet As in the case of drywall, carpet may contain formaldhyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene and perchloroethylene. New carpet installation may introduce these chemicals into an otherwise healthy office environment. Exposure may affect the central nervous system, in addition to being the cause of headaches, nausea, and eye irritation, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A Repulsive Refrigerator A communal refrigerator is an office staple, much like the water cooler. But, if the vestibule is not being purged and cleaned regularly, it opens the door for airborne illnesses to contaminate all food within. A study done by American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods states that 22% of office refrigerators are cleaned, a most, a couple of times a year. Likewise, raw foods stored in the same area as dry and cooked food can result in rapid cross contamination. If this is an issue in your office, discuss with management the prospect of implementing a cleaning schedule with your fellow coworkers.

If you are experiencing an ailment in your office that you believe to be the result of the office itself, the first step to take is speaking to member of the management team. If your health issue is believed to be related to the infrastructure of the building, your manager can consult the landlord or building manager in order to have an expert evaluation performed. If you believe that your office is in violation of building codes, you may also contact the Department of Housing, Buildings, and Construction and request that an official inspection be performed.

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