Non-Specific Symptoms In Office Workers: A Review And Summary Of The Epidemiologic Literature

Authors

  • Mark J. Mendell

    1. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Industrywide Studies Branch, 4676 Columbia Parkway, R-16, Cincinnati, OH 45266, USA.
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Abstract

Epidemiologic research into the causes of non-specific symptoms among office workers has produced a variety of conflicting findings which are difficult to synthesize. This paper first discusses methodologic issues important in the interpretation of epidemiologic studies, and then reviews the findings of 32 studies of 37 factors potentially related to office worker symptoms. Among environmental factors assessed, there were generally consistent findings associating increased symptoms with air-conditioning, carpets, more workers in a space, VDT use, and ventilation rates at or below 10 liters/second/person. Studies with particularly strong designs found decreased symptoms associated with low ventilation rate, short-term humidification, negative ionization, and improved office cleaning, although studies reviewed showed little consistency of findings for humidification and ionization. Relatively strong studies associated high temperature and low relative humidity with increased symptoms, whereas less strong studies were not consistent. Among personal factors assessed, there were generally consistent findings associating increased symptoms with female gender, job stress/dissatisfaction, and allergies/asthma. For other environmental or personal factors assessed, findings were too inconsistent or sparse for current interpretation, and there were no findings from strong studies. Overall evidence suggested that work related symptoms among office workers were relatively common, and that some of these symptoms represented preventable physiologic effects of environmental exposures or conditions. Future research on this problem should include blind experimental and case-control studies, using improved measurements of both environmental exposures and health outcomes

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