Outsourcing workers in the Philippines are cooped up in crowded offices all day. Many of these offices have centralized air conditioning; if not maintained well, they may cause several health problems among employees. Because outsourcing employees often work long hours and change their shifts with little time to prepare, they're vulnerable to developing a variety of health problems. Here are three significant respiratory problems that BPO and KPO workers may have to deal with while working for offshore service providers.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
A research study of outsourcing workers in the Philippines revealed that Filipinos rarely develop life-threatening diseases while working as call center agents. They may have problems sleeping during the day, but they generally have average or above average health. The most common health problems that were cited by the respondents included "colds and cough, fever and flu, and asthma resulting from too much smoking." With the exception of asthma caused by smoking, all these problems can be categorized as upper respiratory tract infections.
Colds and flu are the most common cases of infection. They may have similar symptoms, but they're caused by different viruses.
Colds are inconvenient, but they're usually not serious and can be treated at home with over-the-counter medicine. Symptoms may last 4-14 days. These include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, headache, body aches, low fever (usually less than 101° F or 38.3° C), and congestion of the ears, nose, throat and head.
Flu typically has acute symptoms, which may last for 3 to 4 days. The coughing may linger for up to 3 weeks. Gastrointestinal symptoms are rare. While complications are uncommon in young, otherwise healthy adults, it's best that you know the symptoms, which include: rapid onset of symptoms, high fever (greater than 101° F or 38.3° C), severe body aches and/or headache, dry cough, extreme fatigue, and chills.
Follow the link for general advice on how to reduce the symptoms of these minor ailments, and hasten your recovery.
Occupational Asthma and Outsourcing's Smoking Culture
It can't be helped. Jobs in outsourcing are stressful, and one of the common ways that workers deal with the hair-pulling anxiety and tension is to smoke cigarettes. Thus, nicotine addiction is widespread among call center employees.
For a chain smoker (like myself), packs of cigarettes can take a big chunk out of one's already small salary. Many BPOs discourage frequent smoke breaks, especially if the job involves 24-hour customer sales and support. The five minutes it takes to consume an average king-size cigarette can mean millions of dollars in losses and plummeting values on productivity charts, yet it can mean a morale boost for stressed and overworked employees who put up with the working conditions in an average BPO.
Most smokers (including myself) who work in BPOs do not necessarily see yosi as an "addiction," but as a habit carried over from college. There are definitely occasions where a person develops a nicotine habit because of the stressing work at BPOs, but smoking is mostly a case of old habits that don't die hard. The absence of itinerant vendors or "takatak" boys at the affluent business districts are compensated by the seemingly overbearing presence of convenience stores like Mini Stop and 7-Eleven at every corner, where cigarettes never run out of stock.
Sick Building Syndrome
This syndrome has a broad range of symptoms that can easily be mistaken for other illnesses. The defining factor is the duration of the symptoms and the place where sufferers experience them.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sick building syndrome is strongly suspected when the following circumstances are present:
- Symptoms are temporally related to time spent in a particular building or part of a building
- Symptoms resolve when the individual is not in the building
- Symptoms recur seasonally (heating, cooling)
- Co-workers, peers have noted similar complaints
The term was first coined in the Seventies. People used to think the "increasing presence of electronic equipment" had something to do with the general malaise they were feeling at work.
Most common symptoms of sick building syndrome include headache, dry cough, dizziness, nausea, skin itchiness, fatigue, sensitivity to odors, eye problems, nose and throat irritation, and difficulty in concentrating.
In 2004, a study published in the International Journal of Epidiemology identified air conditioning (AC) systems as the possible reason for this syndrome.
A poor ventilation system is at the heart of the problem. Dust may have accumulated in the air because the AC system has not been cleaned for several weeks.
Volatile organic compounds, such as hexane and xylene from aerosol sprays, can damage the nervous system and affect the liver and kidneys. Pollutants, such as carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust, can silently suffocate a person by preventing red blood cells from delivering the right amount of oxygen to the heart and brain.
While heat and humidity do not necessarily contribute to low-quality indoor air, these factors can affect how people feel. High temperature and too much humidity can cause dehydration, and this can be a major health risk to outsourcing staff.
A simple remedy to sick building syndrome is to clean the work area frequently. Rather than use cleaning agents with harmful chemicals, it's better to use organic cleaning materials. Make sure the office has sufficient ventilation, such as air vents and open windows. Change the curtains regularly, and air out the office chairs with padded seats. Don't use obsolete equipment because they emit "off gases" full of volatile compounds.