Computers and Occupational Health and Safety
Hope you are all having a fantastic start to 2013! Two weeks have passed and we are well and truly into the New Year! In light of everyone being back at work, I have decided to compile a post addressing correct computer usage to ensure excellent Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace.
There are a large number of health hazards associated with computer use in the office. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has a number of Guidelines for Screen Based Work the employers must comply with in the workplace. You can check out the original document here, but for your convenience I have compiled a list of the guidelines main points below.
In summary, screen-based equipment includes computers and computer work such as data input and data access. However, computer work is associated with many health hazards including, but not limited to:
1. Visual Problems
Where computer tasks reach beyond two hours per day, they are deemed to be visually demanding and thus impact the health and safety of a person. Visual health complications can include eyestrain, burning, sore and irritated eyes, blurred vision, changes in perception of colours, tiredness, headaches, migraines and nausea. However, though annoying, these symptoms are directly associated with the computer work and will not cause long term negative effects.
2. Musculo-Skeletal Difficulties
This is generally caused by keeping muscles in one position for too long. An example of this would be a person siting in one position for a prolonged period of time (say at the computer), and can lead to an abnormal muscle use and cause substantial pain and injury. Muscular issues normally occur in the back, neck and head area and known as Occupational Overuse Syndrome.
According to statistics:
- 18% of workers experience occupational related stress most of the time
- 66.7% feel stress part of the time
- 1/4 workers take stress related leave each year
- Stress is induced by computer based work
- Programs that monitor employee performance and encourage percentage schemes are linked to creating high levels of stress
4. Chemical Exposure
While computer related environments generally have low chemical exposure rates, there is cause for concern around laser printers which have been found to omit ozone gas. Very low concentrations of ozone can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Another similar compound is toner powder that can become airborne when cartridges are replaced. All employees should have access to Material Safety Data Sheets containing this information.
5. Noise Exposure
While loud sounds can cause temporary deafness, long term exposure can cause permanent hearing damage. Australian law ensures employees must have an ‘excessive noise’ free workplace and comply with exposure standards. If your workplace has excessive noise and is becoming a source of stress for you, chat to your safety representative or manager.
Controlling Occupational Health and Safety Hazards in the Workplace
The principles of control methods to reduce the risk of workplace injury and disease are quite simple. They consist of a hierarchy of controls:
Elimination: The first option for the control of health and safety hazards is the elimination of the hazard. In screen based work, elimination of a hazardous processes might occur by using non computer-based methods to complete tasks when practical.
Substitution: Where complete elimination is not possible, the next option for control is substitution with a safer alternative. For screen based work, an example of substitution might be upgrading software packages to more “user friendly” systems, providing easier and better control over the work with larger text and images.
Isolation: Where control is inadequate following the best efforts at elimination and substitution, the next option is isolation. An example of isolation might be the placing of noise, chemical or other hazards either at a distance from people performing screen based work, or in a separate room entirely.
Engineering Controls: Engineering controls provide a further level of control where a combination of elimination, substitution and isolation controls still do not provide adequate control. In relation to the screen based work environment, engineering controls might be applied to limit the level of 50 hertz electromagnetic fields in the working environment by re-phasing high-voltage transmission lines, or shielding some mains power cabling and electrical switch rooms.
Safe Work Practices: Safe work practices are administrative practices which require people to work in safer ways. Limiting the amount of time to be spent per day involved in screen based work could be considered to be a safe work practice.
These sections of ACTU Guidelines for Screen Based Work provide guidance on safe work practices that need to be implemented in the physical and organisational environment for screen-based work.
I hope this article has outlined important precautions needed when doing computer-based work. To keep up to date with all the latest in OHS training information and courses, subscribe to my RSS feed. Don’t forget to check back next week when I will be compiling a post on appropriate workplace environments for screen and computer based work! This will include information on adequate training, workload, lighting and air quality as well as the all important workplace workstation specifications regarding desk, chair, footrest, screen raiser and input device regulations.
Until Next Time,
If you liked this post, check out:
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ACTU. (2002). Guidelines for Screen Based Work. Available from Here.
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