You would think that unless your loved ones worked down a mine or engaged in some very dangerous pursuit, waving them goodbye to a fairly safe office environment every morning should not be any cause for worry. But according to recent studies it would appear that grave dangers lurk in the modern supposedly safe workplace.

Stress, back pain, repetitive strain injury, eyesight risk, bugs picked up from co-workers and even deep vein thrombosis are all possible if you are not looking after yourself properly at work. On top of that, long hours of sedentary working are robbing us mentally as well as physically.

Grubby keyboards, telephone handsets and dirty desks harbour armies of germs. A study carried out by a university in the States revealed that the average workstation contains nearly four hundred times as many microbes as toilet seats. Despite the fact that office equipment should be regularly cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria responsible for disease, desks still contain, on average, 20,961 germs per square inch, compared to 49 germs per square inch on the average toilet seat! Yes you would be better of to go and dictate that letter in the loo. Workers unload the contents of their bags onto desks in order to find something, eat biscuits, treats and lunch hunched over the keyboard, sneeze into tissues that are then left lying in a pile beside them before removing them to a bin and leave unwashed mugs festering. Dirty cups are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria passed on from your hands and lips and often the germs are invisible.

You may also be unfortunate enough to work with a martyr, every office has one, the person that has dosed themselves up on cold medicines and limped into work. They should be stopped at the door, Lemsip in hand, and forced home. They’ll cough and sneeze all over the place, take up time with their tale of woe and illness, tell you they are ‘dying’ every fifteen minutes and, if truth be told, couldn’t possibly be doing a very good job given their condition. Send them home! Last week I was in a supermarket where the checkout assistant was visibly ill. This poor girl had swollen, watery eyes and was obviously in great discomfort. While being checked out I commented on how ill she looked and she nodded in agreement. “Won’t they let you go home?” I enquired sympathetically. “No”, she said, “they’ve asked me to stay on until the end of my shift, five more hours”.

Quite frankly I doubt if she lasted that long. It was only later that I considered the effects on the customer. This girl was handling money, credit cards, scanning the stuff I was buying and possibly contaminating everything! Here is a typical example of superiors not having enough sense and workers being afraid to assert that they are ill and need to go home. While it may be considered brave of you to go to work when you are genuinely ill, you are not doing yourself or anyone else a favour.

If your job involves sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen all day you will need to take regular breaks. Get up and walk around for a few minutes and this will also give your eyes a break. More than 50% of computer users experience eyestrain and research even suggests long days in front of a computer could lead to more serious problems such as glaucoma. Long hours sitting at a desk can also put you at risk of deep vein thrombosis. To avoid having to wear your flight socks to work, and let’s face it they aren’t the most fashion conscious item, get up and walk around. The experts say that for every hour spent at a screen ten minutes of downtime is necessary.

People who spend long hours at the office are often not the most productive at all. Long hours lead to stress and resentment of other workers who seem to arrive on time and leave promptly when the day is deemed over. Many years ago I worked in a regular nine to five office environment. Throughout the day it looked like we were all little beavers busily tapping out letters, filling in diaries and occasionally running around to other offices with faxes and memos (the days before the internet and email). Eight hours would pass and there would often still be items on the ‘to do’ list. I was very young and now consider myself fortunate to have met one man at that job who did it differently. He had a totally different attitude to work and yet appeared to be more successful, productive and better at his job than most. He would work really hard for about three hours each day and then would pretty much relax and mess around for the rest of the day. It was nothing short of inspiring to watch him. We had several long discussions about it and he pointed out that over any given day three to four productive hours of work were really all anyone did, but they split that time over eight hours; “fannying around” as he liked to put it, with making cups of tea, chatting to co-workers, arranging stuff for their personal lives and generally wasting time. He, on the other hand, did everything he needed to do in an excellent fashion with perfect concentration and then enjoyed the rest of the day.

Personally I think he was very much on the right track. Unfortunately most bosses don’t see it this way at all. They seem to think that if you are not ‘looking busy’ at your desk for most of the day, then you are not working. For most people the working day is punctuated with stuff outside of their actual remit. Stopping by to chat with co-workers, checking e-mail, surfing the internet, the odd personal phone call or e-mail, a little daydreaming, grabbing a cup of coffee or taking a cigarette break, getting ready to go home or go to lunch; all of these things rob minutes of work and if you actually calculated it, the hours of productive work have been greatly reduced.

It would probably take a seismic shift for bosses to start realising this and encouraging honest downtime in a day, but until then remember that your health is worth a hell of a lot more than your job.