Office-related problems such as eye strain, RSI and exhaustion can be alleviated with a few simple steps Work-related health problems have increased steadily over the past decade and are likely to rise further, according to recent research conducted in Britain. The study, by Norwich Union Healthcare, found that physical complaints can mostly be traced back to excessive time spent in front of a computer and sitting at a desk. Doctors report that repetitive strain injuries, exhaustion and eye strain are among the major occupational conditions affecting employees. These problems, which are related to technological advances that have made some aspects of work easier, can have a serious impact on a person's work performance and general well-being. Gabrielle Preston, an analyst who puts in marathon hours at her desk at a busy financial services firm, is a case in point. 'I loved my job ... but by Friday my head hurt, my eyes stung and my arms ached,' she said. A visit to the doctor confirmed that she was generally in good health, so Ms Preston decided to do some research into what might be causing her weekly malaise. 'After a lot of reading I realised my office environment and my personal habits at work were running me down and turning every weekend into a recovery period,' she explains. 'So I made a few simple changes and now I feel great.' Ms Preston's situation is not unique. Here are some suggestions on how to make those long hours in the office less painful. Office air quality The sealed windows and air-conditioning found in high-rise office towers mean that the circulating air is neither fresh nor oxygen-rich. The man-made materials used to furnish and decorate offices emit hazardous chemicals and volatile organic compounds that can lead to headaches and fatigue. Some house plants can neutralise pollutants and freshen interiors. The snake plant is an all-around eradicator of environmental pollutants, and English ivy absorbs chemical vapours from new curtains and rugs. Dracaena warneckei helps eliminate chemicals emitted by computer screens, printers and copiers, so it is especially suitable for an office environment. These plants are easy to find, inexpensive and improve overall air quality. In addition, making time for a 'fresh air' break by taking a brisk 10- to 15-minute walk outside is rejuvenating. Repetitive strain injury Working at a computer for a large portion of the day can cause repetitive strain injury (RSI) - an umbrella term referring to injuries to muscles, tendons or nerves caused by repetitive movements. Symptoms include painful, tingling or swollen hands, elbows, wrists or shoulders. An ergonomically designed work station can help alleviate the strain to the hands and wrists caused by typing. In addition, the following actions can prevent RSI: 1. Work with your arms neither too close nor too far from the body. 2. Don't rest your wrists on hard surfaces for long periods. 3. Adjust the height of your chair so that your forearms are level with the keyboard and you don't have to flex your wrists to type. 4. Take regular breaks from repeated hand movements to give your hands and wrists a rest. Eye strain Computer screens produce a glare that can cause painful and annoying eye strain. Symptoms include difficulty focusing on an image on the screen, blurred vision, burning or itchy eyes, dry eyes, aching and tightness in the brow, headaches and neck ache. The most important steps to eliminating eye strain include positioning the computer monitor at a distance of 56cm to 91cm (at a five to 10 degree angle), and setting the screen at a high contrast with medium brightness. Other steps that can be taken include: 1. Improve ambient office lighting. Fluorescent lights create additional screen glare and a conflicting flicker, causing stress on the eyes. Use indirect soft lighting instead. 2. Rest your eyes periodically. Blinking massages the eyeballs and relaxes focus. Glancing away from your computer screen every 20 minutes and concentrating on a distant object also allows the eye muscles to rest. 3. Visit an optometrist. People who have perfect long-distance vision may have trouble seeing up close. Reading glasses can alleviate this problem.