Health Risks and the Dispatcher
The communication center is the nerve center of public safety. Here, we are responsible for the safety of responders, bystanders, victims, and patients. We also keep track of
available resources and all units’ status and location. The job is stressful and conditions are not always perfect. With all of these responsibilities, have we neglected ourselves, the dispatcher?
In today’s society, it seems that being at your desk longer makes you more productive. Due to competition in the corporate world, many people are working longer hours, have long commutes, and, when they’re finally home, sit down and relax. On average, people in the corporate world sit for 10 to 15 hours a day.
The job of the public safety dispatcher is similar to a corporate job in some ways, but very different in nature. Tradition has placed the dispatcher in a chair. We “sit the desk” for long hours, resulting in a sedentary lifestyle.
What health risks does the dispatcher experience on the job?
- Eating regular meals can be a challenge. Due to the nature of the job, we often must eat between calls. Dispatchers often eat take-out, processed foods, and few vegetables.
- Dispatchers may experience sleep issues. 911 is a 24/7 system, and dispatchers are required to work long shifts and rotating shifts. We may have to work days, evenings, or midnights. One week we may work the day shift, the next week is overnights, then back to day shifts. Interrupting your sleep cycle wears on your body.
- Posture plays a vital role in your health. Poor posture can cause pain in the head, neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, hips, and legs. Does an uncomfortable chair make it difficult to sit properly? Sturdy, ergonomically solid chairs are expensive, and some agencies cannot swing the cost.
- Stressors are a major part of our job. We face tragedy, fear, anger, and every other emotion on a daily basis. Stress can add to the risk factors for poor health, including physical pains, unexplained anger, short temper, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and relationship troubles.
Health Risks of Extended Sitting
According to a 2012 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, in one week, people spend an average of 64 hours sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours milling around (non-exercise type walking.) This is based on the average of being awake for 15 hours a day, and these numbers do not include the recommended 150 minutes per week for exercise. Keep in mind that these studies are based in the corporate world of 8-hour shifts, and dispatchers often work much longer shifts.
Studies have shown that, after sitting for 8 to 10 hours a day, even the highest level of exercise does not counteract the damage done to the body. Up until recently, a person who exercised 60 minutes a day was considered to be “physically active.” This conclusion is now being questioned.
Emerging research suggests that it is possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting for long hours increases your risk of disease. For example, if someone smokes and also exercises regularly, the healthful effects of exercise do not negate the harmful effects of smoking. This is why sitting is now considered the “new smoking.”
Sitting for extended periods of time affects a number of health issues. These health issues include the following:
- As the body’s metabolism and circulation slow due to lack of activity, it uses less sugar and burns less fat. If our intake of sugars remains at the same level, this results in high sugar levels and can lead to adult onset Type II diabetes.
- Lack of exercise can lead to risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Without exercise, the heart has to work harder to pump properly and may become strained upon exertion.
- A 2013 survey of nearly 30,000 women found that those who sat for nine or more hours a day were more likely to be depressed than those who sat fewer than six hours a day. Prolonged sitting reduces circulation, causing fewer feel-good hormones to reach your brain. Exercise releases these feel-good hormones and hormones that help us relax, which also reduces stress.
Additional Health Issues for the Dispatcher
The act of sitting isn’t the only health risk encountered in the dispatch center. Stomach illness can also result from extended periods at the computer, including the “Qwerty Tummy,” a condition caused by eating without cleaning the keyboard. Some keyboards have been found to contain 150 times the acceptable level of bacteria.
Dehydration is another health issue. It is important to drink water at work because air conditioning and building heat can dry out the skin. Eyes can also become dehydrated from staring at a computer screen for too long.
50% of office workers who use a computer say they have lower back pain. Poor posture can cause lower back pain, and leaning over the keyboard causes upper back pain.
One study in the Journal of Epidemiology found that 9 hours a day or more of staring at a computer screen shows a slight increase in the risk of progressive eye disease and glaucoma.
Minimize the Health Risks
There are several ways the dispatcher can stay healthy. Diet is a big part of keeping healthy. Taking in more calories than you burn increases your weight. Eating healthy will help you maintain weight and feel energized while you work.
Getting enough sleep is a great asset to your health. It will help with your posture, memory, and patience, and reduce stress. Getting enough sleep may be difficult when shifts rotate. Find what best works for you and plan ahead for your work schedule
Daily exercise is recommended, but exercising 60 minutes a day, five days a week is not enough. Take a brisk walk at work during lunch if possible. Even a short walk in the office can help. Get up from your chair to go to the restroom and stretch your muscles.
Take time during the day to do short exercises at your desk. Engaging your muscles for one or two minutes each hour will help your body stay active. Set the timer on your computer to remind you to get up and move every hour. If you’re on the phone, stand up or walk around while talking, if possible. If you need to discuss something with another employee, walk and talk rather than typing an email. In addition to these work-time exercises, try for a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five days a week.
Between workouts during your shift and your mild aerobic exercise, you will be making a difference in your overall health, which may reduce your overall risk of illness. Don’t succumb to a sedentary lifestyle. Stay healthy for an improved life!
PowerPhone is proud to offer a Continuing Education course exploring the relationship between sitting and health among 911 Dispatchers and Call Handlers. Enroll now and enjoy the benefits of learning when and where you want.
Keyboards ‘dirtier than a toilet’ “. BBC News. 2008 May 1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7377002.stm.
Milarn, Emily. “Deskercise! 33 Ways to Exercise at Work.” Greatist. 2012 May 17. http://greatist.com/fitness/deskercise-33-ways-exercise-work.
Yeager, Selene. “Sitting is the New Smoking- Even for Runners.” Runner’s World. 2013 July 20. http://www.runnersworld.com/health/sitting-is-the-new-smoking-even-for-runners.
“Sit Up Straight: Tips to Ditch Desk Ailments in Your Clients.” Ace Fitness. https://www.acefitness.org/blog/2587/sit-up-straight-tips-to-ditch-desk-ailments-in.