- Computers are making office workers sick by flooding
their bodies with harmful radiation, researchers said today.
- They were said to be responsible for a host of symptoms,
ranging from fatigue to backache and depression.
- More than a third of the ailments normally blamed on
"sick building syndrome" were caused by low frequency radiation
from computer monitors, it was alleged.
- With a range of nearly 20 feet and the ability to penetrate
eight feet of concrete, even a computer in a neighbouring office presented
a potential hazard.
- Symptoms included headaches, dry itchy eyes, tiredness
and fatigue, aching backs, necks and limbs, rashes, coughs and sneezes,
depression, irritability and loss of concentration and memory.
- A study showed that in any four working weeks, 50% of
staff in a typical office equipped with computers experienced between seven
and 12 such symptoms.
- Environmental experts Professor Derek Clement-Croome
from Reading University and consultant John Jukes made the discovery while
testing a new device designed to counter the effects of radiation from
visual display units (VDUs).
- One hundred people working in separate wings at the offices
of Southampton and South West Hampshire Health Authority in Southampton
were involved in the study.
- The devices, which sit on top of the computer screen,
were given to 50 staff working in one wing for a month, while the rest
received a dummy.
- After four weeks the devices were switched round, but
no one knew which were real and which fake until the results were recorded
at the end of the study.
- When the real devices were operating, the number of symptoms
fell by between 27% and 44%, with an average reduction of 36%. As soon
as the were taken away, the symptom level shot up again.
- Mr Jukes said: "The results were surprising. We
didn't expect to get anything like a 36% reduction in symptoms.
- "The conclusion is that low frequency magnetic fields
account for over a third of so-called sick building syndrome."
- The researchers were surprised to find that the radiation
appeared to produce purely physical symptoms, such as back and neck ache,
as well as those commonly associated with stress and environmental factors.
- The health authority was deliberately chosen because
of the "informed scepticism" of its staff, many of whom had medical
backgrounds, and the fact that the office did not have air conditioning.
- Air conditioning systems have in the past been blamed
for "sick building" problems.
- Although the symptoms were not severe enough to cause
absence from work, they affected personal well-being and productivity.
- Mr Jukes said: "So common is the pattern that most
people tend to regard it as just part of life.
- "They may complain about the air conditioning, the
lighting, or their desk and chair, but since no one knows quite what to
do the problem remains."
- He stressed that the radiation had a range of 18 feet
and could not be blocked out. It was able to pass through a concrete wall
eight foot thick.
- "A VDU below you or on the floor above, or in an
office next door, could have an adverse effect," said Mr Jukes.
- Low frequency radiation induces small circulating currents
in the body which are said to mimic and confuse bio-electrical functions,
affecting cell division and making the immune system less efficient.
- The £67 Tecno AO device developed in France emits
a signal that boosts the body's own beneficial electromagnetic fields.David
Little, head of corporate services at Southampton and South West Health
Authority, said: "We welcome the findings of the study team and are
very pleased that staff seem to feel healthier when a live device is fitted
to their VDU. As our staff have been so cooperative the researchers have
agreed to let us keep the devices, and we hope that they continue to improve
the wellbeing of people working here." David Little, head of corporate
services at Southampton and South West Health Authority, said: "We
welcome the findings of the study team and are very pleased that staff
seem to feel healthier when a live device is fitted to their VDU. As our
staff have been so cooperative the researchers have agreed to let us keep
the devices, and we hope that they continue to improve the wellbeing of
people working here."