MRO Magazine

Staying Clear Of Workplace Health Maladies

Yich. Your eyes are watering from the dry temperature. Your back is strained from standing all day, crouching over a major pump repair, or arching over a computer screen. And if all that weren't enoug...


September 1, 2008
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Yich. Your eyes are watering from the dry temperature. Your back is strained from standing all day, crouching over a major pump repair, or arching over a computer screen. And if all that weren’t enough, you feel bone-tired and ready for bed … but it’s only 1:30 p. m. on the day shift!

If you’re at work in this 21st century era, you might easily fall prey to any one of those common workplace health maladies: eye strain, tension headaches, backaches and more. What to do?

Here’s a summary of the most common workplace health and fitness complaints — and commonsense remedies. Try one or more of these remedies and you might chase the malady away, and become happier and more productive in the process.

First, a caution: any persistent health complaint can be a symptom of disease or injury. So, while it’s usually okay to ease discomfort with casual remedies, be sure to seek care from a medical professional if your health symptoms are painful or persistent!

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Now, let’s get fixed up….

• Back pain. You feel it: a dull, throbbing ache in the lower back. Every time you move or get up you feel that dull pain. Remedies: Avoid sitting in a stationary position for a long period; get up and stretch every half-hour or so. When you do sit, use a straight-backed chair or a chair specifically designed with lower-back support. Avoid bending over to pick things up; bend at the knees instead. Apply heat if you’re feeling ongoing aches. And, very important: exercise! If you experience acute back pain or long-term pain, get medical advice.

• Eye strain. ‘Tired eye’ can result from fixing your gaze on a computer screen or other close-up work for long periods of time. Remedies: Tilt your computer slightly, so that you’re viewing it at a slight angle, or install an anti-glare screen. Also, don’t forget that almost all computers contain a brightness control. Move the control knob down to minimize brightness. If your eyes are bloodshot, you may need a moisturizer to keep sufficient water in your eyes.

• Fatigue. You might feel a sense of deep exhaustion during the day. Or just an unsettled sense of vague hunger and weakness. Remedies: Get moving. Take a brisk walk. Get up, stretch, and move around your work space. Instead of calling or e-mailing a colleague, get up and walk to your colleague’s work space. Important: stay hydrated — keep a glass or bottle of water nearby and sip regularly! Hint: avoid carbonated beverages.

• Hiccups. Although you might laugh at first, these spasms of the diaphragm can quickly become uncomfortable and, if you’re at work, even distracting. Remedies: Try drinking a glass of hot water fast. Or hold your breath for as long as you can while staying as calm as you can. Or take a spoonful of sugar, or a small amount of some other sweet or tart substance.

• Neck Ache. Your neck feels tight, or even throbbing. Remedies: Keep your work items at least a foot or two away from your body. And be sure to sit or stand straight!

• Noise. You can’t help but hear the rumbling machinery, conversation and dull roar of the modern workplace. At the least it’s distracting; at times, the noise is stressful. Remedies: Use proper hearing protection or even simple earplugs to block the noise.

• Respiratory ailments. The air in your facility seems stale. You feel as if you can taste the impurities in the air around you. Remedies: Be sure the vents in the room are unobstructed and clean. Dust regularly. And, of course, keep yourself hydrated. If these don’t help, try an air circulator; available at most hardware stores, these devices increase air flow.

• Stomach upset. No, you don’t really feel sick — but your stomach feels upset and your body feels ‘off’. Remedies: Enjoy a light snack — a piece of fruit or vegetable. Eat a light, low-fat lunch with a healthy dose of protein. And avoid caffeine; it can lead to stomach blahs and low energy hours later.

• Stress. You feel a sense of jitteriness and uncomfortable anxiety. Remedies: Take a few minutes and breathe gently and deeply. Get up and move around. Even more important: get regular exercise outside of work; the physical and emotional benefits will extend into the workplace.

• Tension headaches. You know the feeling — a dull throbbing on one (or both) sides of the head. Remedies: Ordinary aspirin can work wonders. Also, try heat or ice. Some people that find light exercise, such as a walk, reduces the severity of headaches. Since many headaches are associated with loss of sleep, one of the best remedies may be to get enough rest.

• Wrist strain. One or both wrists ache because of repetitive movement. Without care, the ache can turn into carpel tunnel syndrome. Remedies: When working at a keyboard or a workbench, adjust your work surface or chair so your elbows are at a right angle. Position your wrists so you can minimize bending them. And place your wrists on a keyboard rest.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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