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Are Computers Damaging Your Health?

7 point checklist

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Updated July 23, 2006

Working for hours on end with a computer is now a fact of life. Whether it's an aspect of your work or whether you use computers just for fun, there are certain risks involved with prolonged computer use. This simple 7 point checklist will help you recognize and avoid the most common problems:

C ontact stress
O rganisation
M onotony
P osture
U ncomfortable environment
T etchiness
E xercise

Contact Stress and Computers
Contact stress refers to the pressure that is put on different parts of the body whilst in a relatively fixed position. Wrist and hand problems are common with computers. For example, 'floating' your hand over the mouse for long periods leads to strain on the ligaments in the back of the hand and the wrist. The sensation is not unlike gripping a pen for long periods. Leaning wrists against hard surfaces such as the edge of the desk leads to similar problems.

Over time, health problems may occur as a result of high repetition of hand movements, forceful typing, or having bent wrists whilst using the key board. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that affects the wrists and hands following pressure to the median nerve. Numbness may also be experienced in one or both hands and even the simplest of tasks involving the hands becomes a painful and sometimes impossible activity. Attention to posture, light keyboard actions and mouse movement and simple regular exercise (see Exercise) can help to prevent problems. If problems do arise it is important to stop and seek medical assistance. In extreme cases surgery may be required to relieve symptoms, but rest, coupled with remedial exercise, is the most likely medical intervention. 

Organizing your Work and Comnputers
Organizing your work can help prevent computer-related health problems. Think about the nature and pattern of your work. If you have to undertake repetitive tasks with the computer try, where possible, to vary these with other activities. Coffee and lunch breaks are there for a reason. Don't be tempted to sit at the computer during breaks; much better to get your circulation going and step out for some fresh air. Think carefully before accepting overtime or agreeing to take on extra work, or forcing the pace to try and finish the work you have. The more work you accept the more it may be assumed you can cope. There are times you may need to assert your rights in order to keep a balance in your life. 

Computer Monotony
Any task that involves staring at a computer screen, no matter how exciting or interesting, leads to physical fatigue. So whilst you may be quite happy to press on with work your body may have other ideas. The most common physical complaints are eye strain and problems with vision (blurring and itching being typical). Headaches are also a product of prolonged staring at a screen. Remember to look away from the screen when you don't need to use it. Check that the light levels are comfortable and that you are not dealing with screen-reflected glare from windows or lighting. Some people find glare-reducing screens useful. If you experience repeated headaches you should visit your doctor. 

Posture and Computers
Bad posture is enemy number one. Posture includes the factors previously discussed under Contact Stress. Check your posture now! You should be able to reach the keyboard and mouse whilst bending your elbows at 90 degrees, with your shoulders relaxed. If you are stretching, this could cause problems. Your back should be straight and the top of the monitor should be just below eye level. If your monitor is to the left or right of your keyboard you are putting strain on your neck. Long periods of time at the computer often leads to pain in the lumbar region of the back. Neck and shoulder problems also result from poor seating and the poor organization of equipment on the desk (stretching for the telephone or files etc).

Uncomfortable Computer Environments
Some of the issues previously mentioned contribute to an uncomfortable work environment. Poor lighting levels or screening, poor air circulation, noise and equipment issues all contribute to an uncomfortable work setting. The attitude of colleagues affects the atmosphere of work. A good combination of environmental and relationship factors are necessary to help avoid stress.

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