computer can hurt you, but solutions are numerous--and cheap
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #316 November 14, 1995 High Tech
computer in your
office may be hazardous to your health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor
recently compared figures from 1981 and 1993, and found that when
desktop computers were just beginning to penetrate the office
so-called cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) accounted for 18 per
cent of reported American workplace illness. Two years ago, CTDs had
risen to afflict 4.4 million employees, accounting for more than 62
per cent of all workplace injuries.
not as dramatic
as losing a finger in a sawmill or being struck by a falling tree,
but they can have a major impact on an employee's productivity and
happiness. And they can be expensive: it's been estimated that treating
a single case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a common CTD, costs $39,000.
Multiply that by 4.4 million, and we're talking real money.
all this as
a business opportunity--we're urged to replace our office desks and
chairs and computer keyboards with high-tech 'ergonomic' alternatives.
Microsoft's Natural Keyboard, which looks as though it belongs on
the starship Enterprise, comes with a silk-screened notice
on the bottom listing ways to reduce repetitive strain injuries.
be minimized without buying new furniture, equipment, or hardware,
simply by minimizing stress in the working environment, optimizing
breaks and exercise periods, and generally increasing awareness of
the potential for injury in our offices.
of Berkeley, California, has a series of small, inexpensive,
books covering a range of computer-oriented topics. One of my
for the past few years has been The Little Mac Book by Robin
Williamsthat Robin Williams), and highly recommended is
the new 25 Steps to Safe Computing by Don Sellers
in Canada). (no, not
books, this one is short (72 pages), but clearly written and organized.
It looks at 25 possible areas of computer-related injury and highlights
warning signs, making simple, practical suggestions for improvement,
and offering resources for more information.
example, it points
out that 10 million Americans report computer-related eye complaints
to optometrists each year. Symptoms can range from focusing problems
to double vision, headaches and colour confusion. Suggested remedies
include glancing away from the monitor for five to 10 seconds, every
10 minutes or so, spacing out computer work throughout the day, and
reducing glare by controlling light levels and monitor placement.
At the same time, Sellers points out that eyestrain symptoms can also
be a sign of more serious illness, so if they persist, see a
areas of concern
can include headaches, back pain, muscle strains, and stress (stress
alone is estimated to cost U.S. business more than $150 billion a
for safer use of common computer equipment such as keyboards, mice,
and monitors and discusses issues such as electromagnetic radiation,
putting it in relation to other areas of risk (electric blankets,
for example, are much higher sources of electromagnetic fields). He
also has some practical steps to minimize hazards, and a short section
puts issues of concern to pregnant employees into perspective.
quick, basic handbook, 25 Steps gives a brief overview of the
in making your office a safer place for yourself or your employees.
At the same time, such a short take on these issues raises as many
questions as it answers. Happily, each of the short chapters includes
a source for more information, and there is a comprehensive list of
(U.S.-based) resources at the end of the book.
a more complete account, charmingly entitled Zap! How your computer
can hurt you--and what you can do about it, which won the Benjamin
Franklin Award for best health book of 1994.
You owe it to
eyes and wrists--and those of your employees or co-workers--to take
a look at one or the other of these books, and to try to implement
their practical (and no-cost) solutions to computer-based injury in