There was a strange smell in the open plan office where I worked in London. I can’t put down on paper exactly how it smelt, but it was a chemical-type pong that made me feel quite nauseous. When I complained to my manager, a veritable battery of technicians swarmed in to test the air quality. They then replaced my printer and moved the giant photocopy machine away from my desk (such are the benefits of working for a large corporation with a strict occupational health and safety policy). I don’t remember whether it worked or not, but I remember being impressed by their concern (a legal requirement) for my wellbeing in the workplace.
Luckily for my health and for the environment, I don’t have to do much printing these days, just the odd translation that I would rather read on paper and documents for my accounts. However, I am still concerned about the effects of the machinery around me on the air that I breathe and on the general environment, particularly since I have read that these may be the source of pollutants capable of damaging your lungs.
Investigators at Queensland University of Technology, Australia, have found that some laser printers emit large numbers of miniscule particles into the air. In a poorly-ventilated environment where printers are in frequent or continuous operation, this could put workers at risk. So tiny are these particles that they can find their way into your respiratory tract and blood, causing or worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Ugh! Yet another reason to keep the windows open all the time.
Printers aside, nearly every other device or piece of equipment we use in our offices emits electromagnetic radiation. Electro-stress from computers and laptops is reduced when we put a little more distance between ourselves and our devices. Studies have revealed that exposure above two milligauss (mG) can be harmful to human health. When you are four inches or less away… think about sitting with your laptop on your lap, you might be exposed to as much as 20 mG, a level of exposure that is thought to cause a plethora of issues that include fatigue, immune suppression, male sterility and even cancer.
Then there’s your Wi-Fi router, a wonderful device that has allowed you to ditch the wires and watch Netflix in bed. All that convenience comes at a price, since wireless routers, Bluetooth and similar also give off low-gigahertz frequency electromagnetic radiation. This invisible radiation flows through walls, and you are exposed to it around the clock, even when you are asleep, not to mention the radiation emitted by your neighbours’ routers and all the ones in the stores and businesses you visit during the day. Scary, don’t you think?
My research has uncovered plug-in products that claim to protect offices from this radiation, but I need to so some more reading to find out whether they really do work. Watch this space.