The Wild Indoors: Managing Threats to Healthy Work Conditions

healthy work conditions

The modern American spends a lot of time in an office setting. Corporate offices are considered one of the safest, most comfortable, healthy work conditions available to the average employee.

When one considers the wide range of highly undesirable, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous jobs in the world (roofing, waste collection, and anything including hard manual labor), the comforts of an office building seem very appealing.

Regardless, the average office comes with its own set of specific – albeit tame – health hazards and discomforts. From inadequate break policies to poor lighting and air quality, office working conditions are not always up to par with high health standards. In order to maximize productivity and ensure employee satisfaction, it is important to consider the following aspects of the work environment:

Proper Lighting

Despite its importance, office lighting is often overlooked as a minute detail of an office setting. However, lighting can have a huge impact on how happy and effective employees are; workers rated it as the most important aspect of their work environment. Cheap fluorescent lighting may fit the company budget nicely, but proper lighting is worth the splurge if it means better productivity.

Brightness is often measured in lux. The human brain experiences stimulation and stress-reduction at levels of up to two thousand lux. Adversely, the average office is only lit at around five hundred lux — such low levels often produce feelings of drowsiness. Natural light from large windows, supplemented by corrective and task lighting, is a great remedy for this issue. Beyond brightness, large gallery windows provide the right kind of light according to the time of day: cool blue in the afternoon and warm orange in the evening. This change in lighting color creates a more realistic and comfortable work setting for employees, as compared to the unnatural overhead lighting in most offices.

Glare from bright surfaces – such as glossy plastic furniture or walls, or poorly-placed light fixtures – should be avoided at all costs to minimize eye strain and fatigue. Any unnatural lighting should be indirect and diffused evenly throughout the room. Computer glare can be minimized by placing corrective lighting behind the monitor, and most desks should have a small task light for paperwork, unless fully illuminated by a nearby window. Ambient lighting is the ideal supplement to natural lighting, but overhead lights are acceptable in rooms with large windows and other various light fixtures.

Break Policies

Federal labor regulations do not require businesses to provide lunch breaks for employees; however, many state labor codes mandate lunch breaks and, overall, nearly everyone agrees that both part-time and full-time employees should have access to some kind of break-time at some point in their workday. Allowing fifteen- or thirty-minute lunch breaks gives employees the opportunity to rest their eyes and exercise their bodies, fuel up with healthy brain food, and recharge with either some stimulating social conversation or a period of relaxing silence (depending on the person and the job).

The average person should eat either a meal or a snack every three to four hours, so unless the company allows eating during work hours, one or two breaks during the day are ideal. Many workplaces offer break rooms for their employees to utilize, with a variety of healthy food and snack options. The furniture should be comfortable and distinct from typical office furniture — so no rolling chairs or desks. Offering free coffee and all the additions (cream, sugar, and cups) is a great reward for hard-working employees and helps boost their productivity throughout the day. The break room pantry and fridge should be well-stocked with healthy snacks – fresh fruit, nuts, etc. – to encourage good eating habits and keep employees feeling their best.

Air Quality

Another often-overlooked aspect of a healthy work environment: good air quality. It seems simple enough, but even well-maintained buildings can suffer from inadequate air quality, which can result in illness-causing pollutants. The EPA estimates that tens of billions of dollars are spent annually in the U.S. due to lost productivity and medical care as a result of poor air quality.

To prevent this kind of health – and financial – catastrophe, employers should take several steps to maintain clean air in their buildings. If not done already, prohibit all smoking indoors and within a certain distance of building entrances. HVAC ventilation filters should be changed regularly and room cleanliness should be maintained with consistent dusting and vacuuming. Humidity should be carefully controlled with dehumidifiers or air conditioning to prevent dust mites and mold. Last, keep your air clean the natural way by incorporating certain indoor plants into your decor: ferns, aloe vera, and spider plants are some attractive plants that possess air-purifying qualities. We spend a lot of time indoors, so maintaining good air quality is a vital part of staying healthy!