Health and Safety - Computing and ICT in a Nutshell

1.10 Health and Safety
In this section you must be able to:
• Describe the provisions of the current
health and safety legislation in relation to
the use of information systems.
• Recognise that health and safety
guidelines cover the design and
introduction of new software.
Health and Safety Issues
ICT use can lead to the following health concerns:
• RSI – Repetitive Strain Injury
• The effect of radiation from VDUs
• The effect of computer use on eye-sight
• Stress
These can be improved by:
• Having an ergonomically designed workplace
• Following health and safety guidelines
• Using carefully designed software systems
Repetitive Strain Injury
• A variety of disorders affecting the neck, shoulders and
upper limbs
• Caused by repeated small movements – e.g. typing or
moving the mouse – data-entry are clerks badly affected
• Results in numbness, tingling, aching or stiffness
• RSI was identified as early as the 18th century but
diagnosis has proved contentious in recent times
• There is no medical cure other than to:
– Stop the repeated motion, e.g. with a change of
– Use proper supports – e.g. wrist rests
– Stretch regularly and include other exercises
Extra Low Frequency Radiation
• We are exposed to ELF radiation from:
– Mains electricity
– Computer monitors
– Natural sources, such as sunshine!
• Research has shown that there may be a link
between ELF radiation and health problems
• A causal link between VDU use and miscarriage
has not been established, although there is a
positive correlation – this could be caused by other
factors such as stress and poor ergonomics
• Radio equipment (such as mobile phones) has also
been in the spotlight
• Computer users spend a long time focussing on
screens that are relatively close
• Other aggravating factors include:
– Glare and other improper lighting
– Poor work practices – insufficient rest, etc.
– Poorly designed equipment
– Improperly corrected vision (i.e. not wearing your glasses)
• Screens are best viewed in dim lights, but this can make
paper documents difficult to see
• There is no evidence that there is permanent damage to
the eyes
Sources of Stress
In work environments, stress can be caused by:
• Demands – such as workload, work patterns and the work
• Control – such as how much say the person has in the way
they do their work.
• Support – such as the encouragement, sponsorship and
resources provided by the organisation, line management
and colleagues.
• Relationships – such as promoting positive working to avoid
conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
• Role – such as whether people understand their role within
the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that
they do not have conflicting roles.
• Change – such as how organisational change (large or
small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
ICT-related Sources of Stress
More specifically, ICT can in induce stress:
• Slow machinery – i.e. having to wait for things to log
in/out, and data to be processed
• Inappropriate or faulty systems
• Lack of skills (or confidence – “will it break if I press
the wrong key?”, or “I’m too old to use computers”)
• Information overload
• Work rate – performance can be monitored by software
that counts key clicks
• Monitoring – e.g. e-mails, web-pages, audit logs
• The ability to work at home – with laptops, mobile,
pagers, etc. – so it feels like you’re always at work
• Speed of development – the pace at which things can
change in the ICT industry
Information Overload
• Managers are bombarded with more information
than they can handle
• This can produce “information anxiety”
• For example, even searching for “information
overload” in Google finds 1,850,000 hits in 0.3s!
• If people are away for a few days they can have
100s of e-mails waiting for them when they get back
• In a survey of ICT department heads, more than
75% reported that pressure at work caused
problems in their personal lives from loss of
appetite and sleep to alcohol abuse
Health and Safety Regulations
• The Health and Safety (Display Screen
Equipment) Regulations 1992 protect the
health of employees
• Employers must
– Analyse workstations for safety
– Provide training on the use of workstation
– Ensure that employees have regular breaks or
changes of activity
– Provide regular eye tests for workstation users and
pay for glasses where necessary
Health and Safety Regulations
• Employees must
– Use workstations and equipment correctly, in
accordance with the training provided
– Bring problems to the attention of their employer
immediately and co-operate to correct them
• Manufacturers are also required to ensure that
their products comply with the directive, e.g.
– Screens must tilt and swivel
– Keyboards must be separate and movable
• Notebook computers are not suitable for entering
large amounts of data
• Refers to the design and functionality of the
environment. Employers must consider:
– Lighting – offices should be well lit with
adjustable blinds to control sunlight & glare
– Furniture – chairs should be adjustable
– Work space – including heating & ventilation
– Noise – must be kept to a minimum
– Hardware – screens must tilt and swivel, etc.
– Software – must make tasks easier and be
adaptable to the users’ needs
Software Quality
Bad software can be extremely stressful to use, e.g.:
• Badly-chosen colour schemes
• Incomprehensible error messages
• Non-standard keys or interface
• Badly structured menus
• Repeatedly failure of new software
• Lack of functionality – not doing what it should
• Unnecessary features – e.g. “Tip of the Day” or the Office
Assistant tell you that you appear to be writing a letter
• Slow processing
Can all lead to frustration.
(see also 2.10 Human/Computer Interface)