Within ten years every clerical worker in the U.S. and Canada will likely be working in front of a computer. Women now hold the majority of jobs that involve full-time computer use. At least half of these women are of child-bearing age.
Contrary to government and industry reassurances, working in front of a VDT screen (video display terminal, the viewing screen of the computer) is not the same as using an electric hair dryer.
The health issues around computers are complex and strike at the heart of some of our basic assumptions about this electric age.
According to a Canadian Labour Congress Report, women whose jobs require intensive use of the computer, such as data entry and word processing operators, are two to four times as likely to experience health problems as women who use their computers part-time or in a professional or technical capacity.
There are two broad categories of possible health effects. One is the interaction of the worker with her environment called ergonomics. The other is the effects of the invisible radiation given off by a computer.
This first category results from unfavourable working conditions at both the physical and psychological level. A new field of study called ergonomics has sprung up which examines the worker's interaction with her work environment.
In this case, ergonomics includes such factors as the design and adjustability of computer work stations, proximity to other computers, office lighting, quality of air, noise levels, spacing of breaks from the computer, how the computer work is paced and monitored, the total time spent at the computer and overall stress levels.
Eyestrain refers to a number of conditions which can have one or more causes. Eyestrain includes complaints of sore, burning, dry, itchy, tender, watery, or irritated eyes. It also includes the sensation of heavy or twitching eyelids or pulling or drawing of the eye muscles. Other common eye complaints include difficulty focusing, double vision, blurred vision and seeing coloured fringes or a pink after image.
To find the cause of the eye strain you have to look at three factors in your work environment: VDT screen design, office lighting and work regimens.
VDT SCREEN DESIGN: The bottom line is that the characters on the screen should be easy to read. Character readability, brightness and contrast, and amount of flicker are all important.
Studies have shown that workers reporting flickering or blurred characters on the VDT screen are twice as likely to experience eye problems as those not reporting these conditions.
OFFICE LIGHTING: The importance of proper office lighting and absence of glare on the screen cannot be overemphasized.
Dr. Helen Feeley, an Ottawa optometrist, has seen a lot of people with VDT-related eye problems. She says glare and uncorrected vision problems are the two main causes of eyestrain.
WORK REGIMENS: Eye problems tend to increase with the amount of time spent continually at the screen. There is less eyestrain if VDT work is alternated with other types of work and VDT continuous usage is limited to four or five hours a day.
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