‘Tell me your job and I’ll tell you what disease you have’

Every job appears to have its own health risks, which vary from mild to very serious, according to studies that show an increasing number of conditions affecting the working population in recent years. The use of the computer has contributed to a rise in the incidence of muscular-skeletal and ophthalmological conditions. It is no longer rare to see desk workers wearing a neck brace or wrist guard, and nearly half of all office workers worldwide complain of pain in the neck, shoulders, back or wrists. «In recent years, we have seen a lot of young people suffering from pain in the back of their necks. As the face is fixed in position toward the computer screen, particularly over long hours, the way the neck is held could cause problems,» said orthopedic surgeon Spyros Iliopoulos, who recommended that people take frequent breaks and do simple exercises. Using a special pillow to support the back also helps. If the pain is severe, physiotherapy is recommended to relax the neck muscles. Another frequent problem with desk workers is lumbago, particularly among those who don’t exercise. «One’s back should be positioned right up against the back of the chair; people should not hunch over. It is better to place a cushion to support the middle of the back,» said Iliopoulos. Designers, graphic artists and teachers are prone to carpal tunnel syndrome – symptoms include a tingling sensation in the thumb, index finger and middle finger, which can be treated by surgery. Tennis elbow is frequent among those who use tools such as screwdrivers and hammers. The most frequent work-related disease in Britain is asthma. «Bakers, painters, carpenters and workers in chemical industries often suffer from bronchial asthma despite measures taken on the job to reduce the risk,» said Panayiotis Behrakis, a professor of pulmonary medicine at Athens University. The most serious disease however is mesothelioma, cancer of the membrane covering the lungs which appears decades after exposure to asbestos. «Unfortunately, the law does not recognize this disease as work-related. In Greece we have not yet recognized the extent of this disease,» said Behrakis. About 30 percent of office workers complain of eye problems such as double vision, glaucoma and irritation. Computer users often complain of tired eyes, pain, itching and double vision, attributed to unsuitable lighting, poor equipment, the lack of a computer screen filter and the office microclimate, which often includes cigarette smoke and a dry atmosphere. From allergies to asbestos poisoning A survey by the Social Security Foundation (IKA) recorded 30 cases of job-related health problems in 2005 among technical and manual workers aged 46-75. Nearly half of those diseases were due to chemicals or inorganic compounds that resulted in allergic dermatitis and lead poisoning, while 38 percent were the direct result of industrial materials and products that led to chronic bronchitis, pneumococcal infections and even bladder cancer. Among unskilled manual workers, the problems ranged from hearing loss due to noise, pneumococcal infections, allergic dermatitis, and asbestos and lead poisoning (from the toxic effect of metals). However, the number of cases was lower than in the past. Out of 30 illnesses, 12 had resulted in some degree of disability (20-45 percent and the remainder 50-80 percent). In 12 cases the problems were due to exposure to construction materials.