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Health and Safety Aspects of Using Computers

| January 4, 2015

Introduction
Computers have become an integral part of our lives and over the last decade we have witnessed a phenomenal surge in PC ownership across the world. In the UK, as per early 2011 statistics, PC ownership has continued to increase sharply with almost 77% of the households having a computer. This penetration of computers along with internet access is reflected in the fact that almost 26% of the advertising expenditure is spent on internet based advertising. (OFCOM, 2011, pg 8) Computers are no more just educational tools or office automation systems but they are meshed with every aspect of our lives. As a powerful social media gadget that interconnects people around the world, a Shopping platform that lets people buy and transact online, and as an entertainment hub, computers have become indispensible tools. However, there are some downsides to this increasing use of computers. Health impacts in the form of visual problems, radiation effects of display devices, electrical pollution, musculoskeletal disorders, and not to mention the least, the development of addictive behavior, are an increasing concern for people who use computers for a protracted period of time on a regular basis. A brief overview of these health hazards and how to safeguard against them would equip us better for the safe use of technology.

Health Effects of Computers (Computer Vision Syndrome)
With computers becoming an inseparable part of our lives it has become necessary not only to focus on its beneficial aspects but also on the consequences of prolonged computer usage. The health impact of regular computer usage is gaining more focus. The most prominent of all the symptoms of regular computer usage is its effect on vision. There are a spectrum of visual disorders that are aggravated by the prolonged usage of computers. These are together described as what is known as the ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’ (CVS). It has been observed that the aggravation of underlying eye problems or the development of new vision problems are directly associated with increasing periods of computer screen viewing. Computer related eye problems account for one out of six cases of patients who go in for ophthalmic examination. (Nataliao, 2010) With statistics indicating that people in the western countries spend at least 6 hours everyday working on the computer and an average of 1548 hours per year, computer vision syndrome is now becoming a major occupational health issue. Eye strain is the predominant visual problem. Statistics suggest that more than 10 million people visit eye doctors each year due to CVS. Research also indicates that the risk of developing CVS is high for people who average more than 2 hours at the computer everyday. [Wordpress] The following chart indicates the percentage of people affected by the different disorders under the CVS.NH

Radiation (EMF)
Computer monitors as well as the processing units emit Electromagnetic fields that are typically classified as Very low frequency (VLF) and Extremely low frequency radiation (ELF). (New York State United Teachers). As per the recommendation of the international commission of radiological protection, the recommended safe limits of radiation exposure is less than 0.02mSv/week. A study by Benue State University measured radiation levels at a distance of .5 m and 1 m from the screen using a digital radiation meter. The results of the study indicated radiation levels of (1.92 ± 0.41) or 10-3mSv/week at .5 M and (6.86± 0.37) or 10-4mSv/week at 1 m. These levels were well below the recommended safe limits suggesting that radiation from the computer screens is not very dangerous. (Agba & Ayangeakaa (2005)).
There are many other researches that have also concluded that computer radiation does not really pose a significant health risk. Since the low frequency radiation is non-ionizing it does not carry the risk for cancer or other serious ailments. However, the main concern is that prolonged and regular computer screen viewing does in fact cause significant eye strain. A survey by the London Hazards Centre has revealed that at least 70% of people who use computers for more than 6 hours a day are affected by visual problems. Similarly, in the US, a study by the ‘Berkley School of Optometry’ has revealed that around 30% of all American school kids experience “undue stress on their eyes by using the computer too much”. (HealthSure, 2011) In fact, the study reported a direct link between early myopia and increased use of computers.
The problem therefore is not the radiation effects but the over indulgence and poor ergonomics that are causing these symptoms of CVS. Improper positioning of the monitor, light glare and getting fixated to the screen for hours together are identified as the main problems that lead to the development of CVS. One of the most effective solutions is just to have regular breaks from the computer. This would help rest the eyes, help prevent dryness of the eyes and also result in more productivity. Another simple but effective solution is to focus periodically at distant points. This simple exercise would help relax the Ciliary muscles that are tensed due to prolonged focus at the computer screen. [GSU]

Radiation from Wireless devices
Another source of radiation is wireless internet connection devices. The antennas inside the laptops as well as the access points in a Wi- Fi network are sources of radiation. A recent study in the UK by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) focused on measuring the strength of these radiation sources and their potential health impact on children in schools who are exposed to such devices. In one particular research in a Chilton area school, a total of 15 laptops and 12 Wi–FI access points were studied to examine the strength of the electromagnetic fields emitted by these devices. The measurements were made at a distance of 1 m and 1.5 m from the screen and the Wi-Fi access points. The results showed that the power density measurements at .5 m for the laptops and the access points were 22 mWm-2 and 87 mWm-2 respectively while similar values measured at a distance of 1 m were 4 mWm-2 and 18 mWm-2 . These measurements again confirmed very low radiation levels and are much below the recommended levels of the International commission on non-ionizing radiation protection (ICNIRP). This test result suggests that the radiation exposure levels from the laptops and Wi-Fi access points are not significant to cause any heath concern and are in fact much lower than that emitted by cell phones. (HPA, 2011)

Musculoskeletal Problems
Another important health problem arising due to computer usage is the development of musculoskeletal disorders. The human skeletal system is basically designed for mobility and not well suited for sitting at the same place for long hours. Poor ergonomics further add to the problems leading to the development of back pain, neck pain, wrist pain and pain of the finger joints. Most of these problems can be solved by using ergonomically designed chairs and by maintaining good sitting postures. Chairs that have height adjustment, arm rests that can be adjusted in and out, back rest that can go forwards and backwards and swiveling motion, are best suited for prolonged sitting tasks. Also, as discussed before, taking frequent breaks and walking away from the chair is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent musculoskeletal stress and to avoid repetitive stress injuries. [New York State United Teachers] Tea

Conclusion
Computers are inevitable in our modern world. They have shaped a new world of business and entertainment and would continue to be an integral part of our lives. However, prolonged usage of computers can result in undesirable health impacts. These can be safeguarded against by following a balanced approach. Computer Vision Syndrome and musculoskeletal problems are the most commonly observed negative health effects of uncontrolled computer usage and an unbalanced work ethic. Having good ergonomic workplaces, maintaining healthy sitting postures and having frequent small breaks from the computer is the key to maintaining good health and improving workplace productivity. Several studies have proved that the radiation from the computer screens or the wireless access points are not significant enough to cause health concerns. CVS and musculoskeletal disorders are very much preventable. Observing certain standard precautions and practices as mentioned above is the best way to minimize the negative health effects of computer usage.

Bibliography
1) EA Agba, DA Ayangeakaa (2005), Radiation Levels from Computer Monitor screens within Benue State University, Makurdi, Nigeria. Nigerial Journal of Physics Vol 17.
2) GSU, Accommodation, viewed Oct 2nd 2011, <http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/vision/accom.html>
3) HealthSure, (2011) Eye Health and Computer Screens, viewed Oct 2nd 2011, <http://www.healthyeyes.org.uk/index.php?id=87>
4) HPA (Sep 2001), Wi-Fi The HPA research Project, Viewed Oct 2nd 2011, <http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1287142601165>

5) Natalio J Izquierdo (May 2010), Computer Vision Syndrome, Viewed Oct 1st 2011, <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1229858-overview

6) New York State United Teachers , Health and Safety Fact Sheet : Health Hazards of Computer Use, viewed Oct 2nd 2011, <http://www.nysut.org/files/hs_070828_computerfactsheet.pdf>

7) OFCOM, (Aug 2011), Communications Market report UK, viewed Oct 2nd 2011, <http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr11/UK_CMR_2011_FINAL.pdf >
8) WordPress, Computer Vision Syndrome Statistics, Viewed Oct 1st 2011, < http://computer-vision-syndrome.org/statistics/

Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Information Technology Essay Examples

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