September 18, 2014
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Ear Health

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Workplace Health and Safety

Invisible health hazards

Invisible health hazards

Just because you can't see it or feel it doesn't mean it can't hurt you. The air you breathe, the sounds you hear and even your interactions with other people can harm your health.

Air quality
Poor air quality can cause fatigue, headaches, and watery eyes.
Chemicals in the air have been linked to "sick building syndrome" - buildings in which many of the workers develop chronic illnesses. Air conditioning systems can be breeding grounds for bacteria such as those that cause Legionnaire's disease.

There are a number of things both employers and workers can do to help ensure good air quality:

  • Keep photocopiers in a separate room.
  • Smoke outdoors and away from doorways and air intakes - or not at all.
  • Make sure that the ventilation system is cleaned regularly, and keep it on all the time.
  • Don't block air vents with objects such as furniture or boxes.
  • Keep the temperature constant and avoid excessive humidity.
  • Eliminate all materials or chemicals that may contaminate the air quality.

Noise
High levels of noise can cause stress, headaches, nausea, and hearing loss.
Noise can also affect your concentration, which can be dangerous if you're working with hazardous materials.

In some workplaces, the noise is an unavoidable part of the environment - subway stations or crowded bars with loud music, for instance. In such cases as these, it's important to be aware of the noise and protect your ears from it. Even sounds that aren't "noise" can damage your hearing. A noisy bar can be louder than a machine shop.

You can "get used to" loud noise after having been surrounded by it for a while. But that doesn't mean it's less damaging to your ears. If you're in a noisy place, take some time every so often to go somewhere quiet, not just to rest your ears but to readjust your sense of loudness.

Wear earplugs to reduce hearing damage. Most pharmacies carry sponge earplugs that are comfortable and nearly invisible. Don't just put on your headphones and crank up the tunes - using music to drown out other sounds just adds sound to sound, increasing your risk of hearing damage, unless you're using noise-cancelling headphones, which actively counteract external noise.

Noise that's not physically harmful can also cause stress and disrupt concentration. Be on the watch for sources of casual but irritating noise in your workplace. Be aware of the sounds you make that might bother others, and let others know - politely - if they are making a noise that disturbs you.

Stress
Stress can also be damaging to health.
It can contribute to anxiety, high blood pressure, indigestion, headaches, and sore muscles. It can be caused by emotionally difficult working conditions as well as by such things as loud or irritating noise. For more information on dealing with stress, see our "Stress" and "Meditation" health features as well as the "Relax more" section of our "Keep Your Resolutions" feature.

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