Topic overview

Computer health and safety

Computer health and safety

It's important you think about computer health and safety in your office, because technology can create a number of health and safety issues in your business.

Thankfully, appropriate computer equipment, a bit of training and common sense are enough to satisfy most of your obligations and concerns about computer health and safety.

Areas of computer health and safety

Most computer health and safety concerns involve bad ergonomics. Prolonged use of some equipment can cause long-term, painful conditions like repetitive strain injury (RSI). For example, workers using display screen equipment for long periods of time may experience eye strain, fatigue and headaches. Workers who spend much of their time doing typing or data entry using a keyboard or mouse can experience wrist, neck, back and other upper limb disorders.

To start getting to grips with ergonomics in the workplace, it's wise to carry out a health and safety risk assessment. In fact, you are legally obliged to do so - and if you have five or more employees, it must be in writing.

You must take steps to minimise any risks identified. As part of that process, you should also consider the ergonomics in your workplace.

Other issues to be aware of is that any electrical equipment including computers can be dangerous when used incorrectly or if turned on with the case open. Trailing cables can also be hazardous.

Installing and maintaining computer hardware can involve physical risks. For example, your staff should be careful when running cabling above a suspended ceiling or placing network equipment into confined spaces.

Computer health and safety: why it matters

Although suffering a serious injury while working with IT is unlikely, computer health and safety problems can be persistent. Employees may be forced to take time off or prevented from using computers at all.

Practicing good computer health and safety will ensure the well-being of everyone in your business when they use IT. You should always aim to minimise risks, but there are specific legal requirements too. For instance, if an employee works with display screen equipment, you are required to pay for them to have regular eyesight tests if they ask you to.

Failing to take adequate computer health and safety precautions can signal to employees that you're not bothered about their welfare. And the legal obligations mean you could also be at risk of paying out damages should any computer health and safety problems arise.

IT risk assessment

Taking care of IT and computer health and safety should be part of your overall health and safety strategy. Make sure someone has responsibility for it. Give them the power and budget to provide adequately for your staff.

You cannot afford to be complacent. Every workplace can pose some risk including apparently low-risk offices. Carry out a thorough IT risk assessment to understand where the dangers lie in your company. Be systematic: start with a list of the most common IT problems and speak to your employees to identify any you may have missed.

Once you've carried out your IT risk assessment, identify a solution to each issue you find. For instance, if employees are using laptops for long periods of time, you should provide them with a keyboard, mouse and monitor to make their work more comfortable.

Using ergonomics in your workplace

To assess the ergonomic requirements of your workers and workplace, you should consider a range of factors. These include:

  • The job being done - the physical demands of the job, the environment the work is carried out in and the equipment used
  • The person carrying out the job - their physical fitness for the task, their size, weight and posture, their senses including sight and hearing, their knowledge and experience
  • The organisation of the company and the work - teamwork, workload of individuals and teams, the resources available to your workers including supervision and management and communication channels

Talk to your employees about any adjustments or additional equipment or support they might require. This might include:

  • Ergonomically designed keyboards or mice
  • Adjustable furniture to allow them to sit in a more comfortable position
  • Replacing old monitors with newer, adjustable screens
  • Reconfiguring the work space to make equipment, files and resources more accessible

For more information on ergonomics in the workplace, you can read the Health and Safety Executive publication: 'Ergonomics and human factors at work' on the HSE website.

Computer health and safety policies and training

You should have an IT policy explaining computer health and safety best practice. Set out what equipment employees should have access to and how they can address issues. Again, someone in your business should be responsible for this ? make sure your staff know who.

Give all employees training in the basics of setting up and using computer equipment. It's particularly important everyone understands how to adjust their chair, keyboard, mouse and screen properly.

Encourage people to speak up if they're worried about computer health and safety. Minor physical ailments tend to become major ones if not addressed early, so make it easy for people to raise concerns.

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