10 IT health risks—and how to combat them

Everybody seems to understand that movers and
construction workers can have serious back and neck
problems from their strenuous work. But when you sit at a
desk most of the day, people aren’t necessarily as sympathetic
when you moan and groan about your spine, your
sore throat, or your mood. Based on anecdotal evidence
gathered in various workplaces, here are the top ailments
people in a typical IT offi ce may face.

#1: A slug’s life
When the only body part you move in your job is your
mouse fi nger, you just have to take fi tness into your own
hands. Do you have to train for a marathon to lose some
weight? Not at all, according to Dr. James Levine of the
Mayo Clinic. He found that the time spent sitting was more
likely to correlate with weight gain than the lack of vigorous
exercise. You can keep slim, according to Levine, by
walking slowly (about 0.7 mph) two to three hours a day.

Although few of us can stroll around the neighborhood
that long, several companies have developed workstations
with treadmills attached so you can pseudo-walk
while you check your e-mail or debug code. It all makes
CNET’s Mike Yamamoto wonder if there’s a conspiracy to
tether workers to their desks. You can download several
tools from TechRepublic to help you evaluate and manage
your weight, including a body mass index [BMI] calculator.

#2: SIT happens
Weight gain can creep up on you, but it’s not an emergency
in itself. A much more serious hazard of offi ce work
is seated immobility thromboembolism (SIT). This problem
occurs when blood clots form in the legs (deep vein
thrombosis) or lungs (pulmonary embolism) in people who
spend a long time sitting. People may develop these clots
while on a long trip, if they don’t get out of the car or stroll
around in the plane’s cabin a bit. CNET noted the risk of
deep vein thrombosis increasing back in this 2003 article.

More recently, results of a New Zealand study suggested
that a sedentary job may double the risk of developing
clots in the legs (DVTs) or, even more dangerous, clots in
the lungs.

#3: So many headaches
From the fl icker of fl uorescent lights to the hunched-up
debugging posture, the conditions of your cube farm
conspire to cause headaches. Pagers, end users, and the
threat of outsourcing provide additional stress to kindle a
dandy migraine or tension headache. Downing Tylenol or
ibuprofen several times a week can backfi re by making
your pain more tenacious. If you get in a pattern of
frequent headaches, see a doctor to get out of the rut.

You may have tension headaches, which can be treated
with massage or stretches to help relax your muscles.
Migraine is another possibility. Even if you don’t have
the visual disturbances (auras) that are the hallmarks of
a “classic” migraine, you may have a common migraine.
The good news is that there are many medications you
can try to treat and prevent migraines. Although some are
quite expensive ($25 or more per dose), treat the headaches
aggressively. Migraines can affect your mood, your
threshold of pain, and perhaps even your risk of stroke.

#4: The bobblehead
syndrome

Do you nod off frequently at your desk and perhaps even
have brief dreams? These episodes, called microsleeps,
may indicate you’re sleep deprived. It’s natural for the
human body to crave a siesta after lunch, but excessive
daytime sleepiness needs to be treated. Most adults need
seven to eight hours of sleep a night, so simply going to
bed earlier may be all you need.

If you’re in the sack long enough but are still tired,
consider your environment (a snoring spouse, a hot or cold room). Crying babies and pagers can jar you out of sleep
and seriously disrupt normal sleep cycles. Sleep apnea is a
fairly common but scary-sounding problem: People with the
disorder briefl y stop breathing, often hundreds of times a night,
which disrupts normal sleep phases. Physical abnormalities that
cause excessive snoring can also lead to poor sleep. So check
with your doctor, who may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat
specialist or sleep clinic to sort out your sleep problems.

#5: Hurting hands
Although your hands and wrists may be sore from intensive
typing, there’s not a whole lot of evidence to link keyboard use to
carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). A 2007 study of men who worked
at video display terminals found an association of CTS with high
body mass index (BMI) and job seniority—but not with specifi c
tasks related to computer usage. Still, many conditions other
than CTS can make your hands and wrists hurt, so it’s wise to
check with your doctor to try to get some relief.

Severe carpal tunnel syndrome is usually treated with surgery, but
many other conditions that cause hand pain don’t require such
drastic treatment. Tendonitis, for example, is a fairly common
cause of hand pain that may be treated with anti-infl ammatory
drugs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) and splinting.

#6: Relax harder!
How is it that sitting on your chair and looking at a monitor can
make your back, neck, and shoulder muscles feel like you’ve
spent eight hours painting a ceiling? Your tense posture may be
part of the problem. Improving the ergonomics of your work area
may help take the stress off your upper body. Try not to transfer
the tension in your mind to your muscles and take a break now
and then to unclench.

#7: Noxious invaders
The dry air of a typical offi ce certainly doesn’t help your immune
systems ward off your coworkers’ coughs, but hey, at least
you’re not sitting in a daycare center. There are hundreds of cold
viruses, plus several infl uenza viruses each year. What can you
do to stay healthy and help keep your coworkers healthy, too?

* Stay home for a change.
* Clean your keyboard, mouse, and desk.
* Wash your hands.
* Keep hydrated.

No replicable scientifi c studies have proven that vitamin C,
Echinacea, or zinc will prevent or shorten colds, but many people
swear by them.

As far as gastrointestinal illness goes, remember that the most
common transmission route is fecal-oral. So, for God’s sake,
wash your hands after going to the restroom. Also, consider the
effective, but possibly neurotic, act of opening the door with a
paper towel when you leave.

#8: Eye strain
Watching a backlit screen two feet away for four hours at a
time isn’t really natural, is it? So it’s no surprise that people in IT
complain about irritated eyes and declining visual acuity. Here are
some suggestions that may help:

1. Remember to blink. Yes, blinking is pretty much
automatic, but some people really keep their eyes
peeled when they’re engaged in work. Their eyes dry
out, which is extra hard on people who wear contact
lenses. A few drops of artifi cial tears can make your
tired eyes much more comfortable.
“How is it that sitting on your chair and looking at a monitor can make your back, neck,
and shoulder muscles feel like you’ve spent eight hours painting a ceiling?”

2. Change your focus. Look out the window or down
the hallway—anything to get away from your two-foot
focus. There are even programs designed to remind
you to give your eyes a break.

3. Get an eye exam. Your doctor may have more tips to
help you feel more comfortable as you work. And everyone
needs to be screened for glaucoma and other
eye diseases anyway.

#9: Heavy lifting
If your job requires you to lift, lower, and/or carry equipment
around, you might fi nd yourself battling back pain. Maybe you
spend your days installing workstations or inserting/removing
computers from racks—and if you’re used to the work and know
the right way to protect yourself in the process, you might not
have any problems at all. But if it’s an occasional task, or if you
don’t follow some basic precautions, you could wind up with a
painful injury or chronic back trouble.
Despite the fact that best practices for lifting are largely common
sense, people often ignore them—and often wish they hadn’t.
Here are some basic recommendations for protecting your back:

1. Examine an object before you try to pick it up to determine
how awkward and heavy it is. Tip it a little to test its
weight and make sure you have a comfortable, secure
way to grip it.

2. If you think an object might be too heavy for you
move, fi nd an alternative: Get someone to help you,
unpack or dismantle the object and move it in pieces,
use a dolly, etc.

3. Don’t extend your arms when you pick up or lower a
heavy object. That puts a big strain on your back.

4. Watch your footing—the last thing you want to do is
stumble or trip while carrying something heavy.

5. Lift correctly. Keep your back straight, kneel to pick
up the object, and then lift using your leg strength, not
your back.

#10: Something in the air
If you work on a lot of systems, you’re no stranger to dust. Even
a well-maintained machine in a clean, ventilated area is going to
pull in plenty of it. And if you work on customers’ computers or
make a lot of workstation calls, you’re going to feel like Tom Joad
before long.

This may not faze you at all, but if you’re like many techs out
there, it could spell big-time allergy, respiratory, and sinus woes.
Among the suggestions from veteran dust-sensitive IT pros: Put
on a dust mask before opening a case (or crawling around under
a grubby workstation). And if you plan to use compressed air to
blow some of the dust out of the case, defi nitely mask up fi rst.
You might also want to consider vacuuming that dust out rather
than blowing it around—but you should use an ESD (electrostatic
discharge) safe vacuum designed for electronics.

When you think about hazardous materials handling, you may
think about people who work at chemical companies or nuclear
power plants. But IT professionals work every day with equipment
that contains toxic materials. That’s why disposing of old
computer and electronics equipment can be a challenge.

To protect yourself and others from exposure to potentially
dangerous substances, and to avoid liability for violating environmental
regulations, you need to know about the risks posed by
various devices and supplies and how to minimize those risks.

Generally, electronic waste is classifi ed as hazardous if it contains
components that are toxic (poisonous), ignitable/combustible,
corrosive, or reactive. Most electronic devices contain heavy metals,
such as lead. If the hazardous components get into landfi lls,
the hazardous substances can then get into the soil and perhaps
seep into the groundwater.

TO ALL READERS:

This might actually happened to you if you always face your PC. It is based on my experience, some of it. =)

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~ by fudge on June 30, 2009.

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