Health at work: improve employees’ health in 9 actions

Health at work actions

Workplace health: daily habits and actions in the workplace can degrade the environment and the health of workers. A few changes can ensure a healthy environment and prevent the development of certain diseases, improve mental health and make the workplace a cocoon of health and productivity.

How to improve health at work? 

Reading time: 7 minutes

Summary

Reducing indoor pollution in offices to improve occupational health

Avoiding sources of pollution

Reduce noise
Break the sedentary lifestyle
Increase your physical activity
Healthy food in appropriate containers
Work-life balance
Work at a temperature between 20-24°c and a humidity between 40 and 60%.
Workstation ergonomics to prevent musculoskeletal disorders

In order for employees to be in good health, it is necessary to improve the quality of life at work. This means being able to offer good working conditions to its employees for greater productivity and better company performance. Employer is required to implement all necessary means to protect the health of its employees at work.

Reducing indoor pollution in offices to improve occupational health

Employees spend most of their day indoors and the quality of indoor air can quickly become degraded. The main polluants found are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehydes (CH2O), fine particles (PM). A concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) too high is also problematic. These pollutants in addition to the discomfort can generate on the long term respiratory diseases, cardiovascular or even cancers! 

To reduce the concentration of these pollutants, it is important to ventilate for at least 10 minutes, especially in places with a large number of employees. To remember this simple gesture, posters can be placed; it is also possible to use a CO2 sensor (and other pollutants) which will indicate the periods when it is necessary to ventilate.

Reducing the concentration of CO2 and other pollutants by airing out the room can increase productivity by up to 11%, and can also help to avoid discomforts such as migraines, fatigue and irritation.

Avoiding sources of pollution

In the office, it is important to identify and inform about the sources of pollution in order to eliminate them or reduce their impact. The passage of cleaning teams leads to peaks of volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. Computer equipment is an important source of fine particles, ozone and VOCs.

Ensure that cleaning crews pass through the building outside of working hours and if possible after the employees have left rather than before they arrive so that the concentration of VOCs can be reduced. The choice of cleaning products containing very low VOCs and without perfume makes it possible to lower the concentration of VOCs. Airing or ensuring adequate ventilation in rooms containing computer equipment or new furniture also helps reduce pollution. A nomadic sensor measuring VOCs and fine particles makes it possible to ensure that the concentrations of pollutants remain correct and to ventilate accordingly in the contrary case. 

Indoor air pollution causes fatigue, migraines, sneezing, and eye irritation in the short term. Reducing this pollution reduces absenteeism and increases productivity and performance. By improving ventilation and thus eliminating some of the pollutants, worker performance increases by 4% to 16% (L. Berkeley, National laboratory).

Reduce noise

Exposure to noise at work plays a major role in the health of employees. Repeatedly at high levels (>80dB), noise can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus, at the regulatory level this limit must not be exceeded on average over an 8 hour day. Exposure to lower but repeated noise levels (>55dB) causes hearing fatigue, stress, headaches, decreased concentration and increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Reducing noise exposure is as simple as taking regular quiet breaks (quiet room). Using noise-isolating headphones is also a solution to reduce exposure. Earplugs are also a solution for almost total isolation without having to go outside. Measuring noise levels with sensors allows us to assess the situation and provide appropriate advice to employees.

Reducing exposure to noise can reduce stress, improve sleep, avoid fatigue and increase productivity and concentration.

Break the sedentary lifestyle

Sedentary behavior is defined as prolonged sitting or lying awake, and has a significant impact on health, as the American expression “sitting is the new smoking” says. Working in an office is therefore often synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a risk of overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, impaired sleep and increases the risk of certain cancers. Sitting for 8 hours a day increases the risk of premature death by 15%!

The solution to fight against sedentary lifestyle is to interrupt the prolonged sitting time. To do this, inform people through posters or mobile applications with notifications on the importance of taking breaks by walking every hour, to encourage standing meetings (end of endless meetings guaranteed!), to take a few minutes every hour to get up and stretch. To go further, it is also possible to invest in offices that allow you to alternate between sitting and standing.

Getting up for at least 45 seconds and walking every hour can reduce your health risks and improve your well-being.

Increase your physical activity

Physical inactivity is a health risk factor in its own right. It is associated with an increased risk of developing or worsening chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, mood disorders, depression…

Physical activity can be encouraged through the use of bicycles to come to work, but also through physical activities proposed in the morning, during lunch time or in the evening. Remind people of the importance of walking to work (stairs instead of elevators, walking during lunch break…)

Numerous studies show that doing low to moderate intensity physical activity during the workday increases productivity by 22%, but also increases well-being and motivation by 41%. Simply walking for 20 minutes in a green space during lunchtime increases motivation, well-being and productivity.

Healthy food in appropriate containers

An unbalanced diet is the cause of many chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases…) and can also affect the well-being and mental health (depression, eating disorders…). An unbalanced diet is characterized by a high consumption of fatty, sweet and salty products, often ultra processed, and little fruit and vegetables.  The consumption of many snacks during the day also leads to an imbalance. Containers (plastics…), especially when heating food, can emit pollutants that will migrate into the food and impact health in the long term.

If employees have access to a canteen, ensure healthy choices (fruits and vegetables present, balanced vegetarian options…). In this case, make sure that balanced snacks are available (fruit, dried fruit, oilseeds, etc.), drinks without added sugar (water, coffee and tea, etc.).  If there is a kitchen area, provide dishes to avoid heating in plastic containers. Raise awareness about homemade food rather than the industrial tray of an ultra-processed dish, for this purpose make available simple recipes to carry or workshops/webinars on the subject. Above all, discourage quick meals in front of the screen by leaving enough time for lunch in a dedicated room.

A balanced diet keeps employees healthier and reduces absences. A well-balanced meal will prevent the early afternoon “slump” and ensure better productivity. Promoting healthy eating plays a role in promoting good health and well-being at work.

Work-life balance

An imbalance between professional and personal life can affect mental health and lead in the medium or long term to the appearance of disorders such as anxiety, intense stress, sleep disorders, burn out, depression and suicidal behaviour.

Inquire about the feelings and psychological well-being of employees via questionnaires and then implement corrective actions. The actions implemented can be very simple, such as establishing a right to disconnect (avoiding emails and calls at night and on weekends), allowing for the adaptation of working hours or authorizing telecommuting when possible.

Well-being at work ensures employee motivation, reduces psychological disorders and helps to reduce absenteeism.   

Work at a temperature between 20-24°c and a humidity between 40 and 60%.

Temperature and humidity are mainly parameters of well-being. Dry air (humidity <30%) can cause throat irritation, while overly humid air (>60%) can create an environment conducive to the development of moulds that can affect respiratory health. For static work, a temperature between 20 and 24°C will not make you feel cold, but for work that requires more movement and carrying loads, the temperature can be lowered (18-19°C).

Check the temperature and humidity of the office with a sensor in order to make the necessary adjustments. If the air is too dry (often the case in summer with the air conditioning) humidifiers can be installed, on the other hand, if the air is too humid, airing the room will reduce the humidity. (More info here > how to reduce humidity).

Advising employees to adapt their clothing to the seasons is also a solution to avoid overheating in winter or overair conditioning in summer. A questionnaire can be proposed to adapt the temperature and humidity to the employees’ feelings.

Beyond providing comfort to employees, the temperature of the office influences intellectual performance and therefore productivity.

Improving occupational health with ergonomic workstations to prevent musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of occupational diseases and lead to a significant number of work stoppages. They are characterized by pain and functional discomfort, often on a daily basis. Poor workstation configuration, repetitive movements, vibration, manual handling of loads are factors that can lead to MSDs. Frequent MSDs are carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff syndrome in the shoulder, lumbago and neck pain.

These disorders are also often found among teleworkers who do not have an ergonomic workspace in their home. Solutions exist that allow companies to act and preserve the well-being and health of their employees, and this at home. More information here.

Raising awareness about the ergonomics of workstations (placement and height of screens, seats, etc.); as well as adapted equipment can also prevent MSDs (vertical mice, ergonomic seats, footrests, etc.). The prevention of MSDs of a psychosocial and organizational nature (high psychological demands, work under time pressure, etc.) must be done with social actions targeting the causes. Questionnaires for employees to determine the causes of ill-being are a first lever for action.

Reducing MSDs through preventive actions helps reduce absenteeism, as MSDs are the leading cause of lost work days due to work stoppages. Preventing MSDs means improving the health and well-being of employees, but it also means making numerous savings for the company. For 1 euro invested in prevention, the return on investment is at least 2.2 euros per employee per year!

We hope that our 9 ideas for actions to improve health at work will help you in your daily life. Meersens works to improve the health and well-being of employees.

Meersens, analyze your quality of your environment

Meersens is a positive impact environmental health company, mobilized to create a sustainable future, enabling environmental risk mitigation and positively contributing to the health and well-being of stakeholders – by providing customized environmental monitoring and prevention.

Meersens provides 360°, real-time, historical and predictive multi-pollutant monitoring and insight for any location with high accuracy, enabling you to mitigate risks and make better decisions.

Whether you are a company wishing to act for its employees, a city for its citizens, Meersens can help you!

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