13 Potential Job Hazards for IT Folk (And How to Avoid Them)

by Sam Perry on September 22, 2009

IT_injury_modisAccording to Stanford University, more workers are injured each year by using a computer keyboard in the US than any other tool for the workplace.

Did you ever wonder how much truth there is to the claim that most keyboards are dirtier than most toilet seats?

Scared to type another word of that next e-mail? Read on to see what other hazards you’ve been missing…and how to avoid them…

Arms and legs

1. Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) or repetitive strain injury

Everything from awkward mousing to Wii Elbow can be attributed to this broad suite of ways to frig-up your joints. To ward this off, don’t rely on ergonomic-everything to save your bacon: Among other things, take regular breaks and use an external keyboard for your laptop as much as possible.


2. Static loading

While you’re at it, take a break to avoid letting your body freeze into this state of crusty, raw motionlessness. (Web surfing is a classic example of static loading.) And sit up straight for the love of god. Moving around every now and then will help alleviate most back and neck problems associated with this condition, as well as helping to keep blood flowing.


3. Tendinosis

You don’t have to be training for the Masters Series for this joint ailment (often confused with tendonitis) to strike. Experts think this kind of arm strain is caused by microtears in the connective tissue in and around tendons at the cellular level, due to chronic strains. If you develop this condition due to improper arm movements over time, a variety of new and non-invasive treatments are coming into wide use:


Hands and fingers

4. Extreme Blackberry thumb

Okay…the joke’s over – This very real ailment can actually progress from swelling and pain to the need for Cortisone injections and even surgery. Part of the problem is that nature never intended human thumbs to perform such dexterous tasks. To combat this mobile-power-user ailment, set the thing down and use your fingers every now and then. Also, try some of the exercises linked-to in the URL below…


5. Carpel tunnel (wrist)

A former web manager once theorized that the best keyboard on Earth would simply be a sphere of keys atop an adjustable pole. Until that idea is deemed useful and enters into mass-production, you can try a number of pads and devices – such as the Evoluent Vertical Mouse – that keep your wrists in a more natural orientation.


Eyes, Ears, and Neck

6. Computer Vision Syndrome

Eye strain is a biggie, and deserves a half-hour-or-so of your time (at least!) For a guide to desk lighting, monitor refresh rates and more than 20 other ways to alleviate eye strain, check out this indispensible guide:


7. Acoustic Shock Syndrome and Excessive Noise Exposure

Because tech support staff, call center workers, and people in other IT-related positions sometimes wear headsets for most of their shift, they are often exposed to many times the risks as casual iPod listeners. Thankfully, some headset manufacturers are finding ways to alleviate the strain caused by interference or unexpected decibel spikes in conversations, helping protect headset jockeys from hearing loss.


8. Avoiding “turtle head”

Don’t hunch over your screen on the edge of your chair: Get and use a proper lumbar support if your chair doesn’t already have one, sit up straight, and make sure your monitor is at eye level. If it isn’t, ask for or buy a simple plastic monitor riser or two until you no longer have to look down on your screen.


Mind and soul

9. Stress!!

Don’t become a reactor, especially in a crisis. If you’re wondering how you can possibly deal with that impossible exec or take the time to plan in a crisis, check out this clear and handy guide:


10. Tech-support-rage

The only thing worse than instigating this on the client end of things is flying off the handle yourself. The least stressed-out IT professionals are the ones who “go with the flow” and tackle each problem in-turn. The mother of a designer at a tech firm once gave the advice: “‘Before you panic, ask yourself ‘Is this a true crisis?'” The answer was almost always “No.” If that doesn’t work, we insist you watch this clip:


11. Circadian rhythms

Shift work plays havoc with these. The sedentary demands of IT shift work only make things worse. However, hope springs eternal, as researchers across the globe seek to help-out, including those in overnight tech support and call centre roles: UK researchers, for example, have found that high correlated colour temperature fluorescent lights could help night-shift office workers feel better and work more productively.


Immune alert!

12. Dirty keyboard

So…are office keyboards really full of more germs than a toilet seat? A study for a 2003 segment carried out with specialized test equipment in the three-year-old newsroom of the Canadian Discovery Channel found glaring proof that this claim is likely an understatement. To combat this, flip over and vacuum keyboards, mice, and phones, swab them with rubbing alcohol, and frequently use hand sanitizer. PLUS, simplify your workspace! (Do you really need all that on your desk?)


13. Desk food is making you sick

Food, dust, and leftover crud your hands pick up from a hundred places each day deposit bacteria and other nasty stuff on your desk for at least three days down the road on each encounter. And leftover food bits from that lunch at your desk aren’t helping…Interestingly enough, a recent study found that womens’ desks were three times dirtier than their male counterparts:


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