Sep 23, 2011

Computers and Health

The Law
The number of computers in the workplace has increased rapidly over the last few years and it is now quite normal for most staff in voluntary organisations to be exposed to computer usage. The Health and Safety at Work Act lays down legal standards for computer equipment and requires employers to take steps to minimise risks for all workers. Workers have received substantial damages for injuries caused through use of computers where the employer could have foreseen the risk but did nothing about it. The main regulations covering the use of computer equipment include:
  • Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
  • Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1992
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
Improving health and safety practice should be taken seriously, although it need not take much time or expense. Measures employers should take include:
  • Understanding the law - make sure someone in your organisation has a health and safety brief covering all areas, not just computers.
  • Being aware of the health risks - the government officially recognises some of the risks although there are some grey areas you'll need to make up your own mind about.
  • Assessing the risks - using procedures set out in the law - be systematic and get help if you need it. Get a health and safety audit done by a competent organisation if necessary.
  • Taking steps to minimise the risks - this may only involve taking simple measures.
  • Training all users to recognise the risks - if people aren't aware of the dangers they can't take adequate precautions to protect their health.
  • Taking users views seriously - if users feel there is something wrong there often is.
The Risks
With the increase in computer use, a number of health and safety concerns related to vision and body aches and pains have arisen. Many problems with computer use are temporary and can be resolved by adopting simple corrective action. Most problems related to computer use are completely preventable. However it is important to seek prompt medical attention if you do experience symptoms including:
  • continual or recurring discomfort
  • aches and pains
  • throbbing
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • burning sensation
  • or stiffness
Seek help even if symptoms occur when you are not working at your computer.

Laptop computers can present particular problems due to small screens, keyboards and inbuilt pointing devices (e.g. a small portable mouse or touchpad). Prolonged use of laptops should be avoided. If using a laptop as a main computer (i.e. use as a normal desktop computer in addition to use as a portable), it is advisable to use the laptop with a docking station. This allows an ordinary mouse, keyboard and monitor to be used with the laptop. The main risks associated with using computers include:
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Eye strain and a greater awareness of existing eye problems
Rashes and other skin complaints have also been reported, although it is thought these are caused by the dry atmosphere and static electricity associated with display units rather then by the display units themselves. There are potential risks from radiation though this is a contentious area.


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