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Is your workplace making you sick?


Laine Gordon

Laine Gordon

( 3 min read )

Whether you love going to work or dread it, there's one aspect of the workplace that many of us don't often think about – that the building in which you work could be making you sick.

The term "sick building syndrome" is used to describe a condition that leaves people feeling unwell inside a particular building, usually due to a concentration of gases other than oxygen. These gases can include halogens, ketones, esters, alcohols, phenols, aldehydes and epoxides, all of which can be given off by a combination of people, clothing, furnishings and processes. Many of these gases are also known as "volatile organic compounds" because they are carbon-based molecules (hence "organic") and can vaporise and enter the air.

Various products found in the workplace ­– and in the home ­– emit VOCs, such as paints, carpet backings, glue and cleaning agents.

In poorly ventilated buildings, the effect can leave you lethargic, suffering headaches or poor concentrations among other symptoms.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of VOCs in indoor air are up to five times greater than in outdoor air. More alarmingly, indoor levels of VOCs may reach 1000 times that of the outside air during certain activities.

And it's not just the building that could be making you sick. A recent study of British public servants found that people who work long hours (more than 11 hours per day) are more likely to experience depression than those who work seven to eight hours a day.

One of the study's authors, Marianna Virtanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, suggested a better approach to work-life balance: "Make a distinction between work and leisure; don't skip your holidays; take care of your health and well-being, especially sleep and exercise."

Being active, eating well and even choosing the right type of health insurance can help boost your general health and battle any exposure to poor air quality in your workplace or work-related stress.

In Australia, there are two types of private health insurance – hospital cover and extras cover. The "extras" include anything that helps you stay healthy – from visiting a dentist or optometrist, to a range of healthy lifestyle options such as gym memberships, personal health coaching, weight management programs or seeing a physio. The extras vary among different insurers and different levels of cover.

When applying for health insurance, look into the extras covered by each policy to ensure you choose the right one for you. Generally, the higher the level of cover, the more extras you'll be able to claim.

It's never too late to start taking better care of yourself.

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