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Risk Management Bulletin


By June 1, 2009No Comments

With the coming of summer, more and more workplaces will be turning up their air conditioning — and that might well trigger an outbreak of “dry eye syndrome” (DES) among your employees. The symptoms of DES include redness, itching, extreme sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and a scratchy or filmy sensation in the eye.

More and more cases have been cropping up in the working population, with the condition becoming so common that it’s easy to ignore. Some 9 million to 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic DES, while millions of others suffer occasional symptoms. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports a “staggering” increase in DES, with one ophthalmologist treating an average of 10 cases a day, mostly caused by prolonged exposure to air conditioning systems.

The cases are concentrated in specific work environments. Research by the National Women’s Health Research Center shows a strong percentage of cases among accountants, software engineers, executive assistants, and customer service reps — all professions tied to computer screens in air-conditioned offices. This conclusion dovetails with a survey which found that of some 300 workers suffering from DES, more than two in three reported that their work involved extensive computer use in air conditioned (or low humidity heated) workspaces.

However, the problem is also found outside the office, among such groups as long haul truckers and airline flight crews that spend their workdays in confined, highly air-conditioned spaces, with little influx of fresh outside air.

As summer heat forces many of us to spend more time indoors and motivates building engineers to turn up the air conditioning, your workers might be increasingly vulnerable to DES — leading to lost work time and falling productivity. It makes sense to educate employees about this exposure. Let them know that although the symptoms are unpleasant, painful, or frightening, the condition is usually easy to treat. You can also take such preventive measures as varying the temperature and giving workers breaks in areas with the air conditioning turned down.

For guidelines on dealing with DES in the workplace, please get in touch with us.