Step 3: Solutions to Computer-Related Health Problems
There are five areas in which actions need to be taken to make computer work safe and comfortable.
GETTING THE RIGHT FIT:
EQUIPMENT, FURNITURE AND ENVIRONMENT
A key to healthy and comfortable computer work is a workstation that fits the worker who uses it. Since people are not all the same shape or size, the workstation needs to be adjustable. See Figure 11.
Ergonomics should be considered BEFORE new computers or furniture are purchased or older equipment is replaced. There are also many computer accessories available that allow workers to make existing workstations more comfortable. Whether buying new or fixing old equipment, the ergonomics committee along with other employees should evaluate the products. The following recommendations should make computer work safer and more comfortable for the vast majority of computer operators.
Having a properly designed workstation does not mean your employer has to buy all new equipment. There are many accessories on the market that will allow workers to adjust their existing workstations. See Figure 12.
The Office Environment
Many offices that were originally designed for tasks such as reading printed document and typing need to be modified to address the special lighting requirements of computer work, excess noise and proper indoor air quality.
Inappropriate office lighting is probably the most widespread environmental problem for computer workers. The light comes primarily from sunlight or bright, unshielded overhead light. There are a number of ways to correct lighting problems.
Indoor air quality
A comfortable temperature, somewhere around 70 degrees, should be maintained, with humidity around 50 percent. The ventilation should be properly maintained, filters regularly changed, and enough air exchanges provided to prevent the buildup of air contaminants.
JOB TASKS — WORK ORGANIZATION
Work organization refers to breaks, periods of non-computer work, job enlargement, light-duty for injured workers and other working conditions. Administrative controls means adjusting these factors to make work safer.
Although there is no OSHA standard, research into this area supports a number of common sense recommendations. At a minimum, computer operators should have a 15-minute break for every two hours of computer work, and a break from the computer every hour if they perform intensive keyboard work. In addition to rest breaks, employees should be allowed and encouraged to regularly take brief periods to stretch and do non-computer work tasks.
It is important that workers are not making problems worse when they are performing noncomputer tasks. For example, typing, writing or book handling pose some of the same risk factors for MSDs as computer work.
Piece work or other types of incentive programs can be harmful. Workers need to give their bodies time to rest during their shift or when they are feeling pain.
An effective medical management program will prevent and treat musculoskeletal disorders. The proper medical management of MSDs requires:
A qualified occupational health professional with training in the prevention and treatment of MSDs should be selected to supervise the program. The union should participate in the choice of this person. The health care provider should be part of the ergonomics team which, consists of union and management representatives and others with knowledge about ergonomics.
A medical management program includes the following elements:
1) Trained and Available Health Care Providers
Employees need access to health care providers with knowledge in the prevention, early recognition, evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of MSDs.
2) Periodic Workplace Walkthrough
The purpose is to spot risk factors, identify light-duty jobs and ensure that hazards have been corrected.
3) Symptoms Survey
A symptoms survey of employees should be conducted at least annually.
4) A List of Light-Duty Jobs
Light-duty means jobs with the least exposure to the risk factors that cause MSDs.
5) Health Surveillance
Health surveillance can establish a base against which changes in a person’s health can be compared. Exams should not be used to deny people a job. A baseline evaluation should include a medical and job history, and physical exam. Additional evaluations should be conducted every couple of years.
6) Training and Education
Training should include employees and supervisors. The subjects should include different types of injuries, their causes, prevention, and early signs and symptoms.
7) Early Reporting of Symptoms
It is crucial that employees are encouraged to report symptoms and signs of problems. Early identification and treatment saves suffering, days off work or restricted duty, and recovery time.
8) Standardized Procedures for Health Care Providers
Different health care providers should use similar methods to diagnose and treat MSDs. These written standardized procedures are called protocols.
9) Evaluation, Treatment and Follow-up of MSDs
The medical management program should provide follow-up to the initial evaluation and treatment. Employees returning to work after time off may need a period of adjustment and re-conditioning.
10) Keeping Accurate and Complete Records
Records are important to monitor progress as well as problems.
All computer operators and their supervisors should receive training about MSDs and how to prevent them. Workers should be trained to:
How can you tell if the ergonomics program is working? The measure of the ergonomics program is whether there is a reduction of MSDs, symptoms and lost time or restricted duty. This requires accurate and complete records.
If management will not cooperate in implementing an effective ergonomics program, the local union should collect information on the extent of MSDs and symptoms, identify risk factors in the workplace and make recommendations to implement an ergonomics program.