Workplace Health & Safety for Computer Operators

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A computer researcher.
A computer researcher. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Health and safety is an increasing concern in the information age. Computer operators are exposed to hazards that can cause health issues. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have set guidelines for computer operators but Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act states that each employer shall furnish each of his employees employment and a place of employment that are free from recognized hazards causing likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees. OSHA supports efforts to improve work environments of computer operators throughout the workforce.

Computer Operations

Various occupations include the use of a computer. While some jobs alternate duties that involve working at a computer and performing physical tasks, some job descriptions are specific to sitting at a computer workstation for extended periods of time performing repetitive job duties. The setup of your computer workstation can have a significant impact on your health and safety. As a computer operator, you may be at risk for musculoskeletal disorders and vision problems.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Performing repetitive tasks over time may result in discomfort in your fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, back and legs. Tingling, numbness, pain or poor circulation may be signs of repetitive strain injury (RSI). RSI is a musculoskeletal disorder resulting from injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons throughout the hands, arms and shoulders, is commonly experienced by computer operators. CTS results from pressure on the nerves of the hands and wrists causing burning, pain and weakness.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer vision syndrome (CVS) can result from repetitious eye movements that can cause dry eyes, headaches and visual fatigue. Other factors in determining CVS include dim lighting, poor image quality and glare. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), surveys of computer workers show that eye and vision problems are the most frequently reported health-related problems generally occurring in 70 percent to 75 percent of computer workers.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the applied practice to reduce stress and increase productivity in a work environment. For computer operators, the objective is to position your workstation equipment to your needs for a comfortable and save workstation area. Constantly looking down at your monitor as your feet swing from your chair can cause significant strains on your eyes, neck, shoulders and back. Good ergonomic practices are important for computer operators to remain productive and healthy.

Injury Prevention

Several factors should be considered when arranging a computer workstation to avoid possible exposure to repetitive strain injury and computer vision syndrome. Your head, wrists and arms should be straight and parallel to the floor. Elbows should remain close to your body bending between 90 and 120 degrees with feet flat on the floor or supported by a footrest. Your back should be supported with proper lumbar support. Exercise your eyes by rolling, blinking and periodically focusing them on far-away objects for a few seconds. Take breaks to stretch and move around to maintain good circulation and relax your muscles.

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