Using a computer may not seem like the riskiest of activities, particularly when compared with the hazards faced by workers in other industries such as those operating heavy machinery or handling dangerous chemicals. Yet there are still health risks associated with computer, display screen equipment (DSE) and visual display unit (VDU) usage that need to be taken into consideration by those using the equipment, as well as their managers.
The main health issue associated with computers is eye strain through prolonged use, without sufficient breaks away from staring at the screen. Workers may feel reluctant to stop using equipment in case managers think they are not working and are slacking off, so it is important to discuss your concerns and feelings with your line manager or supervisor. Often, issues can be resolved without having to resort to quoting the relevant health and safety legislation for the country you operate in! This can usually take the form of either management agreeing to suitable break periods (ten minutes per hour is an often quoted recommendation), or finding alternative work away from the computer that can be done, such as paperwork or maintenance of something, which gives the person’s eyes a break but still means they are working.
As well as prolonged or excessive use, eye strain can also be caused by glare from the screen. A monitor that has its brightness setting too high will place more stress on the operator’s eyes, whilst a monitor which is situated opposite a window can have sunlight reflecting off the screen. Simple steps such as reducing the brightness setting and closing window blinds can greatly reduce this as a problem.
Eyes are not the only part of the body that can be affected by computer use. Incorrect support of the wrists can cause aches and pains over a long period of time. Many companies now provide wrist wrests for keyboards and computer mice. Incorrect posture can also cause problems, with the use of foot rests and adjustable chairs helping to combat this. Again, it will depend greatly upon which country you are in and the applicable health and safety legislation for that country as to what your employer must provide. Even if your employer does not have to provide you with this equipment, most will, as the cost of a wrist rest or foot rest is a small price to pay if it means a healthy and motivated worker.
Computer equipment not only generates heat which may make the working environment uncomfortable, but there can also be an electrical fire hazard if plug sockets are overloaded, water is spilled on them or wiring is faulty. Many organizations conduct testing of their equipment for safety, typically once a year. Also, computer equipment can be extremely heavy, so there are manual handling issues to consider when moving equipment to new locations within the building.