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Guidelines for using computers Preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury Computer guidelines for the prevention and management of discomfort, pain and injury November 2010Table of conTenTs Introduction ......................................................................................4 3.3 Postures and practices ....................................... 36 What the guide covers ............................................... 4 reference postures ............................................ 36 The layout of this guide ............................................ 4 Standing to work ............................................... 38 What is a computer workstation? ............................... 6 Working practices .............................................. 39 How do these guidelines relate to the Approved regular task breaks ........................................... 39 Code of Practice for the Use of micropauses (brief pauses) ................................ 39 visual Display Units in the Place of Work? .................. 7 Alternative tasks ................................................ 40 Who should use the guidelines? ................................. 7 Keyboard Use .................................................... 40 1. Identifying and understanding the potential mouse Use ......................................................... 41 health issues .............................................................................8 3.4 Furniture and equipment ................................... 42 1.1 What are the potential health issues Assessing the work ............................................ 42 associated with computer use? ............................ 8 Assessing the task ............................................. 43 Physical discomfort .............................................. 8 Shared workstations and ‘hot desking’ .............. 44 visual discomfort................................................. 9 Teleworking and working from home................. 45 Stress ................................................................ 11 Planning for new furniture, equipment Fatigue .............................................................. 12 and hardware .................................................... 45 1.2 What are the sources of these health issues?...... 13 Desks ................................................................ 46 Individual factors ............................................... 14 Chairs ................................................... ............. 51 Psychosocial factors........................................... 15 Foot rests .......................................................... 56 Work organisation ............................................. 16 Document holders ............................................. 57 Workplace layout and awkward postures ............ 16 Telephone headsets ........................................... 58 Task invariability ............................................... 17 3.5 The computer hardware ..................................... 59 Loads and forceful movements .......................... 17 Screens ................................................... ........... 59 environment ...................................................... 18 Screen placement .............................................. 61 1.3 Are computer related health issues solely multiple screens ................................................ 63 related to workplace computer use? ....................18 Keyboard ........................................................... 64 1.4 benefits of working safely with computers ......... 18 mouse and other pointing devices ..................... 67 1.5 management commitment ................................. 19 Hand-rests ......................................................... 71 2. assessing potential hazards .......................................... 20 Laptops and other portable computer devices .... 72 2.1 Hazard identification ......................................... 20 3.6 educating computer users ................................. 75 Hazard assessment checklist ............................. 21 4. Managing health issues ......................................................80 2.2 Prioritising hazards............................................ 21 4.1 early reporting .................................................. 80 2.3 Developing a hazard control plan ...................... 22 4.2 referral ............................................................. 81 3. controlling the hazards ....................................................23 4.3 Injury management – ‘stay at work’ and 3.1 Work organisation ............................................. 23 ‘return to work’ programmes ............................ 82 Job requirements ............................................... 24 5. Health Monitoring and Programme review.................83 Supervision ........................................................ 24 5.1 What is health monitoring? ................................ 83 Workloads ......................................................... 25 5.2 What is reviewing? ............................................. 83 3.2 The work environment ....................................... 25 5.3 Why monitor or review? ..................................... 83 Working space ................................................... 26 5.4 monitoring the hazards and the health Location of workstations .................................... 26 of employees .................................................... 83 Lighting ............................................................. 27 5.5 reviewing hazard management ......................... 85 Décor ................................................................ 32 frequently asked Questions .................................................. 86 Atmospheric conditions ..................................... 33 appendices .................................................................................... 89 Noise ................................................................. 35 Appendix A. obligations under the Health Housekeeping.. .................................................. 35 and Safety Act 1992 ................................................ 89 Appendix b. Glossary .............................................. 92 Appendix C. bibliography ........................................ 96Introduction In the past three decades computers have significantly changed the working environment, simplifying and speeding up many tasks across many work areas. However, with these advances have come some potential health issues. These guidelines describe how managers, health and safety representatives, occupational health and safety personnel, human resource personnel and computer users can work together to achieve a healthy and productive workplace environment. The guidance reflects current knowledge and best practice for the use of computers so you can achieve maximum efficiency, safety and health in your workplace. WHaT THe guIdelInes cover Other resources that should be used From these guidelines you will learn about how to create healthy and productive to supplement these guidelines can be computer work environments. You will find advice on organising work, providing an found on ACC’s website and elsewhere. appropriate work environment and furniture, and setting up a computer workstation, For example, HabitAtWork for offices including the importance of selecting suitable computer hardware and software. provides examples of preventative The guidelines also outline the different computer-related health issues and the steps approaches, such as stretches and you can take to identify and address hazards in order to prevent these health issues exercise, aimed at reducing the risk of occurring. In the event that a computer user develops a health problem, we have also computer-related health issues (www.habitatwork.co.nz). provided guidance on what your legal obligations are. Although you may not have any health issues from computer work in your workplace, it is important that you regularly monitor the health of computer users and review your management of computer hazards. These guidelines outline steps for monitoring health, managing hazards and training. At the end of the guidelines you will find a set of frequently asked questions and a glossary of terms used throughout the document. THe layouT of THese guIdelInes Additional information and These guidelines present a hazard management process that will help you to identify resources are presented alongside hazards associated with computer use, assess their significance and present controls to the main body of the text. These eliminate, isolate and/or minimise them. This process will take you through five key steps: identify supplementary sources of 1. Identifying and understanding potential health issues; information and references in support 2. Assessing potential hazards; of specific recommendations, such as 3. Controlling hazards; dimensional requirements. 4. managing potential health issues; 5. Health monitoring and programme review. each step is detailed in separate chapters of these guidelines. An overview of the hazard management process is shown in Figure 1. 4 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injuryfIgure 1. guIde To THe ManageMenT of coMPuTer use Hazard Management cycle Key questions to consider » Are the hazards of computer use recognised in your workplace? 1. Identifying and » Is there a commitment to manag- understanding ing computer hazards? potential health issues » Are the benefits of good comput- er use well recognised? » Do you have procedures in place to systematically identify and as- 2. Assesing potential sess potential hazards? hazards » Have you prioritised your actions to control relevant hazards? » Have you developed an action plan to address the hazards? 3. Controlling hazards » Have you implemented solutions? » Have you minimised the hazards? organising work educating The work computer environment users Postures Computer and hardware practices » Do your systems encourage the Furniture early reporting of symptoms? and equipment » Have you taken steps to deal with specific health issues? » Do you have systems in place to If a problem arises manage a worker’s return to work following episodes of discomfort, pain and injury? 4. managing potential health issues » Do you have systems in place to monitor workers’ health? » Do you regularly review your programme for the management of computer workstation hazards? 5. Health monitoring and programme review » Are you up to date with new technology/information? Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 5WHaT Is a coMPuTer WorKsTaTIon? We define ‘a computer’ as the combination of computer hardware, display screen, keyboard and/or mouse or other input device. The computer workstation typically encompasses the computer and the workstation furniture, such as the desk, chair, footrest, any equipment used (e.g. telephone, document holder and printer) and the environment (e.g. lighting, ventilation and noise). We have developed these guidelines mainly from the experiences of office-based computer users, but many recommendations will apply to a wide range of environments in which computers are used. For example, computer users in factory or warehouse settings, control centres and educational environments, and those who work from home or are on the move and use different workplaces should all adopt these recommendations. fIgure 2. dIfferenT coMPuTer WorKsTaTIons 6 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injuryHoW do THese guIdelInes relaTe To THe aPProved code of PracTIce for THe use of vIsual dIsPlay unITs In THe Place of WorK? It is intended that these guidelines will replace the Approved Code of Practice for It is intended that these guidelines will replace the Approved Code of the Use of visual Display Units in the Place of Work, published by the Department Practice for the Use of Visual Display of Labour in 1995. Units in the Place of Work (1995). The guidelines have been developed in response to changing technology and new ways of managing the hazards of computer use. As a guide to ’best practice’, they reflect the current state of knowledge, particularly with respect to the early identification and management of discomfort, pain and injury. You can use these guidelines in any situation in the workplace or at home where a person uses a computer for normal work. They explain how you can meet your obligations under the Health and Safety in employment Act 1992 to provide a safe place of work. You may choose to meet only some of the recommendations in these guidelines, or use other means to provide for the health and safety of computer users. This level of flexibility is necessary because it may be difficult or inappropriate for you to meet a specific requirement in your particular work setting. However, if you are not following this guidance, you should ensure that you have identified all of the relevant hazards and are adequately controlling them to provide a level of health and safety at least equivalent to what would be achieved by these guidelines. You can also refer to Appendix A for more detailed information on how the Health and Safety in employment Act 1992 applies to the use of computers. WHo sHould use THe guIdelInes? Anyone who uses a computer, or works with people who do, will find these guidelines helpful. These recommendations will help computer users to stay comfortable and productive. In the workplace, a collaborative approach between computer users and managers is encouraged to achieve the most effective use of computers in the workplace. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 7Identifying and understanding the 1 problem 1.1 WHaT are THe PoTenTIal HealTH ProbleMs assocIaTed WITH coMPuTer use? Four potential health issues are associated with computer work. » Physical discomfort, pain or injury; » visual discomfort; » Stress; » Fatigue. While we discuss these problems separately below, they often influence each other. ACC provides accident cover for PHysIcal dIscoMforT personal injury caused by work- related gradual process disease or A range of physical conditions may develop or be made worse by working with infection. Eligibility for cover is computers. by ‘physical conditions’ we mean problems that may affect muscles, dene fi d in Section 30 of the Accident connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, joints, bony structures, the blood supply, Compensation Act 2001. nerves and the skin. The symptoms associated with these conditions are sometimes given a medical diagnosis such as ‘epicondylitis’ or ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’, or a general umbrella label such as ’gradual process injury’ (the currently accepted umbrella term for these types of injury). The terms ‘occupational overuse syndrome’ (ooS) or repetitive strain injury’ (rSI) have also been used, amongst others. Within the literature, there are a number of umbrella terms that have been used to describe these symptoms. many people experience upper limb, neck or back discomfort and pain, whether or not they work with computers. However, the onset of symptoms and the movements or body postures adopted while working at computers are often related. Symptoms may include: » Pain; » Fatigue; » muscle discomfort; » Stiffness; » burning sensations; » Weakness; » Numbness; » Tingling. 8 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injurySometimes computer users find that these sorts of symptoms worsen during the day or week and, at least initially, improve at weekends and holidays. It is important to act as soon as symptoms present. Small changes made at the first indications of discomfort usually produce the best outcomes and prevent more significant problems developing. vIsual dIscoMforT eye discomfort is a common health problem experienced by computer users. Studies have shown that eye-related symptoms are one of the most eyesight naturally deteriorates with age. However, several long-term scientific studies frequently occurring health issues comparing computer users and non-computer users have shown that these changes amongst users of computers. are not necessarily increased through computer use. often, people are unaware of Blehm et al. (2005) existing visual problems that only become apparent when they begin using computers, because the demands placed on the visual system by computer work can be very high. vision problems are generally only temporary and decline after stopping computer work at the end of the day. However, some computer users may experience continued visual impairment even after work. Some individuals who experience symptoms of visual discomfort have been found to It is not a legal requirement for have uncorrected vision problems. They usually get rapid relief when they are provided an employer to pay for an eye with glasses or contact lenses that are suitable for computer screen use (lighting and examination. However, where an employee is required to spend a glare problems should also be considered). significant time at computers and It may be appropriate for computer users to have eye examinations prior to or soon monitors it makes for good staff after beginning computer work and periodically thereafter. People with no need for relations, as well as safety and health, glasses for either distance or near tasks may need specially prescribed glasses for to provide for regular eye and vision using computers. assessments for employees. A commitment to meet some or all The symptoms of visual discomfort vary and include: of the costs of a comprehensive » Sore eyes; eye examination and lenses can be » red eyes; included in employment agreements » Watery eyes; where it is appropriate. Regular assessments may result in productivity » Dry eyes; being increased and/or incidents of » eyes feeling ‘heavy’ or ’gritty’; eye strain being reduced. » blurring of vision; » Headaches. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 9The NZ Association of Optometrists Like other muscles, those in the eyes need periods of relaxation. As computer users can provide further information tend to work with the screen a fixed distance away, the unvarying demand on the eye about visual issues relating to muscles can lead to fatigue. If the position of the screen is too high, you are more computer use and a computer likely to widen the eye, exposing more of the eye surface and increasing the risk of assessment form – Visual eye fatigue and dry eyes. A working environment that is too warm or too dry can make Examination of VDU Operators these symptoms worse. (2004) www.nzao.co.nz Computer users may also experience visual discomfort from: » Uncorrected eyesight problems that become apparent with computer use; » visual changes with aging; » The wrong glasses or contact lens prescriptions for computer work; » Inadequate lighting (too little or too much, or the position and type of lighting); » Poor computer workstation set-up; » Lifestyle factors, e.g. smoking, lack of sleep. The New Zealand Association of People suffering from persistent eye trouble need to have their eyesight tested by an Optometrists provides a booklet: optometrist. The optometrist will need to know details about the person’s computer ‘How to Adjust a Microsoft Windows tasks, both at home and at work, including the size of screen, the distance from Computer for People with Low the eyes to the screen and average hours of use per day to ensure that, if required, Vision’. www.nzao.co.nz appropriate glasses/lenses are provided. optometrists have forms on which you can write this information before visiting one. Addressing vision problems arising from computer work might include: » Adjustments to the work environment, such as lighting or window treatments to reduce glare and minimise variations in light levels; » reducing visual stress from computer work through, for example, the use of rest or alternate task breaks throughout the workday, or frequently looking into the distance to reduce focusing fatigue; » Adjustments to the work equipment, such as the location of the screen(s), key- board, mouse, paperwork and chair; » Adjustments to computer software, such as ensuring that the font, font size and screen display settings meet the visual needs of the user; » Specific lenses to meet the unique demands of computer work, such as lenses that are focused for the distance of the computer screen, lens designs that incorporate near and intermediate focusing distances, and lens tints or coatings that may help to maximise vision and comfort; » A programme of optometric vision therapy. Some computer users may experience problems with eye focusing or eye coordination that cannot be adequately corrected with lenses but may be correctable in other ways. 10 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injurysTress You can find more information about Stressors are events or circumstances that may lead to the perception that physical work stress and how to manage it or psychological demands are about to be exceeded. Stress can occur in a wide range in the New Zealand Department of of computer use situations. It can be made worse when the demands and pressures Labour publication on stress, ACC’s do not match the computer user’s knowledge, resources or abilities. Stress may also Preventing and Managing Discomfort, occur when the computer user feels unable to cope or that they have little control or Pain and Injury Programme social support. (www.acc.co.nz/dpi), the World Health Organization publication on Symptoms of stress can include: ‘Work Organisation and Stress’, the » Increasing distress and irritability; International Labour Organization » Physical aches and pains; website on Safe Work: Stress at Work » Difficulty relaxing, concentrating or sleeping; (www.ilo.org/safework/info/langen/ » Difficulty thinking logically and/or making decisions; WCMS_108557) and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work » Decreased enjoyment of work and/or feeling less commitment to work; website on stress (www.osha.europa. » Feelings of tiredness, depression or anxiety. eu/en/topics/stress). Workplace stressors may be inevitable or avoidable. Inevitable stressors can include: » Starting a new job; » Learning a new skill; » Fluctuations in work flow; » Unpredictable emergencies in the workplace. Avoidable stressors can include: » Working for too many hours each week; » Working in a situation that is poorly set up for the work being done; » No performance feedback or only adverse feedback. Work stress can affect your business in a number of ways. Stressed computer users are more likely to have health issues, lack motivation and be less productive. external signs to look for include: » Increased absenteeism; » Increased staff turnover; » Impaired performance and productivity; » Increased unsafe working practices and incident rates. Stress is not just restricted to the work environment – pressures at home can be a contributing factor. Therefore, good support both from outside work and in the workplace may strengthen the computer users capacity to deal effectively with work stress. It is important to remember that for most people work is good for health and wellbeing – it contributes to self-esteem, social participation, personal identity and fulfilment. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 11faTIgue Stress and fatigue are covered by the Fatigue is the temporary inability or decrease in ability to respond to a situation Health and Safety in Employment because of previous over-activity. This over-activity may be physical, mental or Act 1992 as potential work hazards emotional in nature. and sources of harm. The best way Physical fatigue to prevent stress and fatigue in the workplace is to promote healthy work Physical fatigue is probably the most familiar and, in terms of physically demanding through good management and good jobs, tends to be naturally self-limiting. However, in sedentary computer use the work organisation. Healthy work is physical fatigue of smaller postural and arm muscles may not be recognised until the more fulfilling for employees and onset of discomfort or pain. more productive for organisations Common approaches for preventing physical fatigue and discomfort when using than badly designed work. computers include micropauses, regular breaks, stretching and task variety as discussed in other sections of this document. mental fatigue mental fatigue may also occur after long periods of computer use without the user being aware of their developing symptoms. To combat mental fatigue, preventative strategies should be targeted at managing tasks during the day to allow mental resources to be allocated and used effectively: Task duration match the task duration to the intensity of attention required. For example, if a computer user is writing a report and: » There is no deadline pressure; » All necessary resources are at hand; » The author is very familiar with the material, … this task could probably go on all day without additional breaks. However, if a computer user: » Is developing a response to an unfamiliar question; » Is under the pressure of a deadline; » Does not have resources immediately to hand, … this task may require careful pacing. Time should be spent on planning and extra breaks taken. Interruptions Give thought to how computer users can put down and pick up tasks during scheduled and unscheduled breaks. 12 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injuryDeadlines Computer users will not be able to meet constant, urgent, recurring deadlines for a long time unless effective management strategies are used: » break large tasks into smaller ones; » Give computer users the ability to feed back on their progress and negotiate deadlines when required; » Provide some relief from the continued pressures of work. Intense tasks Writing tasks involving complex matters that require reference to a variety of materials (such as data, legislation, company policies, product specifications, export rules) can be very tiring. This sort of work usually requires several hours of intense attention without interruption. When it ceases, a longer break should be taken. Note that visual and ocular fatigue may accompany mental fatigue if intense inspection of the screen contents is required for long periods. emotional fatigue emotional fatigue may result from the need to complete tasks where mental fatigue is involved and is coupled with the uncertainty of emotional responses. Working as normal when a restructuring programme is taking place and your job is perceived as under threat can be very difficult. other sources of emotional fatigue are mentioned under the headings of ‘work organisation’ and ‘psychosocial factors’. 1.2 WHaT are THe sources of THese HealTH Issues? Contributory factors thought to lead to the presence of discomfort, pain and injury in Contributory factors are not listed in computer users can be grouped into seven categories, as in the diagram below. any order of importance, as the impact of each group will vary for fIgure 3. conTrIbuTory facTors for dIscoMforT, PaIn and Injury different work situations. You can read more about the seven groups of contributory factors in ‘Preventing and Managing Discomfort, Pain and Injury’ (ACC) and ‘HabitAtWork: Managing Discomfort, Pain and Injury in the Office’ www.habitatwork.co.nz. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 13We explain these factors below to help you to identify them and recognise the different responses computer user can have to computer work when it is over-demanding. We also include advice to help you put measures in place that will eliminate or minimise the risks these factors pose. All these factors need to be considered together to prevent or reduce the incidence of discomfort, pain or injury, and it is known that making small, positive changes to several of these factors will have the greatest benefit. It is also known that human responses to a given situation vary. Different people will respond to situations in different ways, and each individual may respond differently at different times. Some days we feel great and are very resilient, other days we may feel low and be more vulnerable. Computer work involves a complex interaction between computer users, other people in the work environment, computer equipment, furniture, workstation equipment and the physical and psychosocial aspects of the work environment. The combination effect of these contributory factors alters the overall impact of computer work on the individual. For example, a data entry computer user may manage a work role without discomfort for many years, but with the added pressure of a sick family member they may begin to experience discomfort. other contributory factors for discomfort might include family stress and job-related issues, such as task invariability, workplace layout and a range of work organisation factors. examples of some of the factors to consider in each category are outlined below. These factors may be listed in more than one category, and this helps to ensure that risks are addressed fully. As an example, note how often ‘monotonous work’ comes up. IndIvIdual facTors Individual factors are closely All individuals are different and some are more likely than others to develop health associated with the other contributory issues. For each individual there are factors that you can control and some that you factors. For example, if someone has can’t. For example, a person’s age, body size, gender and genetic makeup can’t be poor knowledge (individual factor) altered. but a person can influence factors such as smoking, diet, exercise and their of healthy work practices, they may ability to perform certain skilled actions. adopt poor posture (workplace layout Individual factors that you need to take into account when planning and organising and awkward postures) and not take adequate breaks (task invariability). computer work include: » The balance of males and females in the workforce, or whether children or young people will use the computers (i.e. it is important to consider the range of sizes Information on access and mobility of users). This will influence the selection of the sizes, types and adjustability of design for people with disabilities can desks, chairs and other equipment; be found in NZS 4121:2001 ‘Design » The physical characteristics of computer users (e.g. body weight) as these may for Access and Mobility – Buildings affect the selection of equipment – for example, ensuring the strength and stability and Associated Facilities’. of a chair are appropriately matched to the weight of the individual; 14 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury» People with disabilities and the accessibility/suitability of the work environment. For example, will computer user with hearing aids cope with the sound levels and acoustic conditions in the office?; » Computer users who use corrective eyewear and the adequacy and control of lighting levels to cater to their needs; » The general health of computer users, e.g. do they tend to have an active or sedentary lifestyle? Fit and healthy people are likely to be more resilient and to cope better with work demands; » The attitudes individuals have towards work and discomfort, pain and injury. Are they positive in their approach to preventing and coping with discomfort, or tend to be reactive and injury-focused?; » People’s ability to adapt to change and how they might adapt to an open plan style office or prefer smaller offices; » People’s ability to cope with stress or high workloads. PsycHosocIal facTors Psychosocial factors are factors that affect computer users’ perceptions of their work Researchers believe that the management of psychosocial and workplace conditions. These factors can lead to both physical stress (such as factors is at least as important as the tense muscles, altered breathing) and psychological stress (loss of creative thinking, management of physical factors in forgetfulness, irritability). Psychosocial work factors often include: preventing discomfort, pain and injury. » Lack of personal control over workload management; » monotonous and unfulfilling tasks; » Deadlines, and tasks with too much (or too little) demand; » Awkward or illogical work processes and tasks; » Poor social support from managers, supervisors and co-workers; » Poor communication between departments; » Lack of job security or job development opportunities. Psychosocial factors can also arise from outside the workplace and may include: » Conflicting demands between work and home; » Lack of support for work problems at home or home problems at work; » Finance or health concerns; » Family and relationship issues. Individuals with strong and supportive relationships both in and out of work, and those who are fit and healthy, tend to be more physically and psychologically resilient. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 15WorK organIsaTIon Work organisation is about the organisation and management of computer work and the jobs involving computer work. This encompasses job design and job training, and the many aspects of work that are the responsibility of managers. Computer users managing their own workloads and managers of computer users must have a good understanding of these issues. Features of good work organisation that may reduce the risk of computer-related health issues include: » Work schedules with flexibility, rather than rigid or strict rosters and routines; » Work shifts that are well organised and of suitable duration to reduce the effects of fatigue; » Work hours that are predictable and that accommodate outside-work commitments, such as family care and recreational activities; » The ability for staff to take regular and consistent breaks for rest, micropauses, stretches and exercises. Take care that computer users do not miss breaks owing to high work demands, and that they do not skip breaks in order to finish early; » Well managed workloads that accommodate weekly, monthly or annual peaks in activity; » Systems that reinforce healthy work practices. Avoid piece-rate payment schemes and/or reward systems as these can reinforce unhealthy choices and actions; » Good communication within the organisation; » New employees given adequate time and training to acquire skills; » Computer users given adequate time to acquire the necessary skills following changes to software, hardware or work processes; » recognition of challenging tasks, such as activities requiring high mental demand and work that is emotionally demanding; » Tasks that are varied and/or interesting that promote feelings of fulfilment and value. WorK layouT and aWKWard PosTures The design and layout of the workstation have an important influence on the postures and work efficiency of computer users. However, even ‘ideal’ set-ups are not ideal if the operators have not been trained how to, or do not choose to work in, a range of suitable postures. Aspects of workplace layout and posture that may contribute to computer-related health issues include: » Poor workstation set-up, e.g. desk and/or chair at the wrong height, or a poorly positioned mouse or keyboard; » Inappropriate selection of computer hardware and software; » Using a laptop/notebook/netbook in an awkward position frequently or for a long period of time (in a vehicle, at a coffee table, on the kitchen table); » Using the wrong furniture for the tasks; 16 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury» Poor layout of workstations, e.g. in an open plan office, workstations that are too close; or commonly used reference material placed where it is hard to access; » Working in awkward postures, e.g. over-reaching, bent wrists while typing. Ways to address issues arising from poor workplace layout and awkward postures are covered in Section 3 of these guidelines. TasK InvarIabIlITy Task invariability refers to the physical and mental aspects of repetitive work tasks. making sure computer users have enough variation in their work is an important part of preventing computer-related health issues. Note, however, that some computer users find highly variable work prevents them getting any ‘task flow’ (physical rhythm or smoothness, or ‘getting into’ thinking tasks). Work that has a high degree of invariability may involve: » Tasks with frequent repetition of the same actions; » Those involving high mental demands or monotonous, under-stimulating, meaningless tasks; » Tasks that involve holding the same posture(s) for long periods; » Using just one hand to perform most tasks, e.g. mouse movements, writing, answering the phone and drinking. loads and forceful MoveMenTs Loads and forceful movements relate to the way muscles and joints are used and how much work they are required to do. examples of excessive loads or forceful movements that may contribute to computer-related health issues include: » Forceful key strokes; » Gripping the mouse tightly or holding the mouse when not using it; » Working with the mouse or keyboard too far from your body, requiring shoulder muscles to work hard to keep your arm and hand in position; » Using a mouse that is awkward to use e.g. the mouse sticks or the surface on which the mouse is used is poor; » Having your screen too high, which leads to your lifting your chin up and causes discomfort in your neck; » mouse movement settings that are very sensitive and lead to additional muscle tension to control the mouse. Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 17envIronMenTal Issues environmental factors are those associated with your surrounding environment, such as ventilation, temperature, lighting and noise. Computer users may have limited control over these factors, and levels of comfort may vary between individuals. environmental factors that increase the risk of developing computer-related health issues include: » excessive noise, or noise with a particular sound quality (e.g. high pitched); » Low or high humidity; » Uncomfortable temperature, i.e. too hot or too cold; » Poor lighting; » Poor air quality. 1.3 are coMPuTer-relaTed HealTH Issues solely relaTed To WorKPlace coMPuTer use? Computer-related health issues are not only work related – many people use computers at home, when travelling or for gaming. The problems that may develop from computer use can also be caused by domestic or recreational activities that use similar muscle groups or positions, e.g., knitting, model making. Health issues may arise as an accumulation of all activities undertaken. Although people using computers at home run similar risks of health issues to those described in these guidelines, they often have control over their computer use and when they can stop or take breaks from the computers. 1.4 enef b ITs of WorKIng safely WITH coMPuTers People vary enormously. This means you need to ensure that the tasks, working environment and the way you organise work are flexible enough to cater for a range of different computer users. If you incorporate best practice for computer use into your workplace, you will reduce the risk of health issues. The benefits can include: » Less discomfort, pain or injury; » reduced absenteeism; » Increased efficiency (work completed more quickly and with fewer errors); » A harmonious work environment. 18 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injuryConsequences of not working safely with computers: If you don’t manage computer work properly, the consequences may be: » Discomfort or pain; » Loss of earnings; » Inability to work; » Problems in quality control and productivity; » Decreases in efficiency; » Sickness absences; » Costs of staff replacement and training; » risk of litigation; » risk of bad publicity; » Increase in ACC premiums. 1.5 ManageMenT coMMITMenT Employer commitment is a central If you want your programme of managing and reducing the hazards of computer- element of the joint standard (AS/ related health issues to work effectively, you need to demonstrate your commitment to NZS4801:2001) on Occupational the whole process. This requires: Health and Safety Management » both you and senior managers in your organisation to be involved in health and Systems. safety management; » An open management style; The requirements for employee » Two-way communication between staff and management, which encourages participation are described in Section ownership of problems and better management of them; 19 of the Health and Safety in » An appropriate balance between health and safety and business goals; Employment Act 1992. » An environment that encourages the early reporting of discomfort and any computer-related issues. ACC has developed a ‘Cost Although workplace design and good working practices are important, so are the Calculator’ that can help you example you and your managers set and how you show your company’s commitment determine the costs of injuries to health and safety. For example, you might show your commitment by consulting and benefits of making changes to your computer users and acting on their concerns, and by yourself promoting good your workplace (www.acc.co.nz/ working practices in the workplace. preventing-injuries/at-work/ injury-cost-calculator/PI00079) Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 19Assessing potential hazards 2 The hazards arising from computer Assessing the hazards involved with computer work requires a systematic process of work ree fl ct many of the contributory identifying hazards, prioritising their importance, and developing an action plan to factors for discomfort, pain and injury control them. You can do this any time: when your workplace is already set up, when identified earlier in this document. you plan to move to new premises, or when you update your existing premises. Changes in technology or work processes are likely to bring about the biggest changes in computer users’ exposure to hazards. As the work changes, the impact of associated hazards may also change, so you need to complete hazard assessments regularly. 2.1 Hazard IdenTIfIcaTIon Hazards associated with computer The hazards likely to arise from computer work can be grouped according to: work are not listed in any order of » The way the work is organised; importance, as the impact of each » The work environment, e.g. lighting, noise, thermal comfort; group will vary for individuals and » Postures and practices; different workplace situations. » The selection and arrangement of furniture and equipment; » The selection and arrangement of computer hardware; » education and training. When identifying hazards you need to: » review early report forms; » review records for previous health issues, e.g. accident reports, ACC claims; » observe the ways computer users actually perform their computer work, as these may differ from those reported by the computer users or others involved in the work; » Consider the types of task that will be required and the set-up of the workstation; » Take account of the preventative or control measures you already have in place. If existing measures are not adequate, you may need to identify further measures you can put in place; » Work jointly with computer users. In the following section (Controlling the hazards) we list the possible hazards arising from computer use. For each of the hazards we explain the risks it poses and provide recommendations for creating the best possible conditions for computer work. We recommend you read this section before you move on to the hazard assessment process. 20 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injuryHazard assessMenT cHecKlIsT one way to highlight hazards within your workplace is to use a hazard assessment checklist. A checklist is a particularly valuable tool as it provides a systematic approach to hazard identification so that none of the hazards is overlooked. A suitable checklist needs to include all significant hazards. It should look beyond obvious physical hazards and consider hazards that are created as a result of the way the work is organised, the training and education of the user, management processes and the culture within the organisation. make sure you consider and include the hazards that are specific to your workplace. You may even find you need to adapt your checklist to suit specific work situations. 2.2 PrIorITIsIng Hazards The computer workplace can present a number of different hazards. While you may be able to eliminate some hazards, in many cases it may only be possible to isolate or minimise hazards. Here are some practical examples. Your first aim must be to: Sections 6-10 of the Health and Safety eliminate the hazard from the workplace in Employment Act 1992 outline the If glare from a window is contributing to a computer user suffering migraines, requirement to eliminate, isolate or to eliminate the hazard you could block all light from the window. minimise hazards in the workplace. If eliminating the hazard is not practicable, every effort should be made to: Isolate the hazard Significant hazard means a ‘hazard Where noise from a printer or other equipment is a source of stress, to isolate that is an actual or potential cause or the hazard relocate the printer or equipment to a separate room. source of: If it is not practicable to eliminate or isolate the hazard, you must: a) Serious harm; or minimise the likelihood that the hazard will be a cause or source of harm b) Harm (being harm that is more as far as possible than trivial) the severity of whose Where a small person is forced to adopt awkward or stressful postures owing to effects on any person depend (entirely an inappropriately matched desk height, using a footrest could be considered an or among other things) on the extent initial step to minimise the hazard. or frequency of the person’s exposure to the hazard; or c) Harm that does not usually occur, or usually is not easily detectable, until a significant time after exposure to the hazard.’ Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 Guidelines for using computers – preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury 21