Information and Communication Technology

Creating a safe working environment

ICT health and safety

Most people do not regard using a computer as being particularly dangerous, and most people are in fact correct about this.

But, if you use a computer for long periods of time, be it playing games or to earn a living, or in keeping up with your social network, health and safety issues can arise.

This page looks at some of the health and safety issues that can occur with extended use of computers, together with some steps that can be taken to minimize or prevent any damage.

Guidelines for ICT health and safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

In the UK, health and safety, including in ICT, is goverened by The Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act, 1974 and is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive or one of numerous other agencies, e.g. the police, local councils, and the environment agency.

In the European Union, ICT health and safety comes under the European Safety and Health Framework Directive. Directive 90/270/EEC - display screen equipment.

The links to the HSE and EU directives are there for reference to what the laws say. For the purposes of IGCSE ICT, it is much more important to know how to create a safe working environment, and indeed how to use one, than it is to know details of the legislation.

Ergonomic furniture

ICT health issue

People who use ICT for prolonged periods of time often experience discomfort or even ill health due to their working conditions. As well as being bad for the person involved, this has also been shown to cut productivity and increase the number of mistakes made.

One of the main problems is that people come in different shapes and sizes. This means that a comfortable chair and desk for one person can be a health hazard to someone else.

The science of ergonomics can be applied to items such as chairs, keyboards, and desks, to make them fit individual users and thus reduce any harmful effects.

The usual approach is to design the workspace for an average person and then have adjustable components that allow individuals to change things to suit themselves. e.g. an office desk may be a standard height, but an adjustable chair and monitor stand would allow a wide range of people to be comfortable while working at it.

Lighting

ICT health issue

Poor lighting can be just as damaging to health and productivity as poorly designed furniture.

Low levels of lighting can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and even depression.

Too much lighting can cause eye problems due to glare, and depending on the light source may contribute to overheating in the workplace.


The light spectrum or colour is also important. People generally feel healthier and work better when exposed to natural sunlight. This is not always possible in a workplace and 'daylight / full-spectrum' lighting which mimics natural sunlight may be used instead.

Helpful devices

ICT health issue

In addition to ergonomic furniture and lighting, there are numerous devices that have beendesigned to reduce health problems associated with working with ICT systems.

Common examples are mice, keyboards, and wrist rests.

There are numerous variations on ergonomic devices, and people will differ in how useful they find different devices to be.

In each case however a well designed device should increase safety, health, and productivity.

Keeping things tidy

ICT safety issue

Using ICT almost always means installing cables. Ethernet cables, connections for the mouse, keyboard and monitor, headset cables, USB cables, etc.

Having WiFi or Infra Red connections can help reduce the clutter, but then there are the connections for charging units, signal receivers and so on.

Cables can be a safety hazard, e.g they can cause people to trip or can get tangled so that moving one piece of equipment may cause another to be pulled out of place.

The use of cable ties, trunking, and sensible routing of the cables help to reduce the possible hazards.

And another thing

More ICT health and safety issues

There are many other factors which may have to be considered when creating a safe workplace.

Many of them will depend on where the workplace is situated. You will need to look at the scenario when answering questions on this topic.

A few factors that might be relevant are:

Some health and safety myths

All too often, examination questions on ICT health and safety issues produce answers along the lines of:

Computers give off dangerous radiation / radio waves / magnetic fields that gives you cancer / damages your eyes / make you ill.

These answers do not score any marks.

Computers do give off radiation, and radio waves, and magnetic fields. But not at a level that will cause you any damage.

As with most other environmental 'dangers', it's all about the amount. You will get just as much exposure to radio waves and / or magnetic fields from a mobile phone, microwave oven, TV set, X- Box or just about any other item of household electronic equipment.

Radiation is the only factor that might pose a slight risk and even then it is the monitor you need to worry about, not the actual computer. A damaged cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor could give off excess radiation and prolonged exposure could be harmful.

It is important to remember however that all monitors have to pass strict safety tests before the manufacturers can market them and an undamaged monitor is no more dangerous than a TV set.

In fact, you will receive a much higher dose of radiation from your everyday surroundings than you would get by sitting at a computer for 24 hours a day. The air you breathe, the food you eat, the ground you walk on, even other people, all give off small amounts of 'background radiation'.

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