Your health and computers

Q. Does working with a computer cause aches and pains?

A. Some computer users may experience intermittent aches and pains in their hands, wrists, arms, neck, shoulders or back (i.e. to their musculoskeletal system), especially after long periods of uninterrupted computer work. If this happens, and you are unable to rectify the problem by adjusting your workstation set up, you should alert your line manager. Usually these aches and pains do not last, but in a few cases they may become more persistent, therefore don't ignore them. Most problems of this nature can be prevented by good workplace design and good working practices.

Q. Am I at risk?

A. Problems do not arise directly from the computers themselves, but from the way in which they are used. The problems can be avoided altogether by good workplace and job design and by the way you use your equipment and workstation.

Q. Can work with computers affect eyesight?

A. There are no indications, from extensive research, that computers will cause disease or permanent damage to eyes. But the fatigue of intensive computer work can cause discomfort, even to healthy eyes. Because it gives your eyes more demanding tasks, it might also make you aware of an eye problem that you did not know about before. It doesn't help your eyes if the computer is badly positioned, or if the workplace is poorly lit. Drifting or flickering images can be very tiring and must be corrected.

Q. I wear bi-focals - will I be able to use a computer?

A. Yes you will be able to. They are not, however, the most ideal as it is important to be able to see the screen comfortably without having to raise or lower your head. You may find that a different type of glasses would be more comfortable if you are planning a lot of computer based work. You should consult your optician or local OH advisor if in doubt.

Q. I wear contact lenses - does this cause any special problems if I work with a computer?

A. Users of contact lenses find any dry environment uncomfortable and the heat generated by the computers tends to make the atmosphere drier than in rooms without them. You may find it helps to blink more often, or use tear substitute drops. An alternative might be to wear glasses instead of your lenses for computer work. 

Q. Can work with computers be stressful?

A. Yes, it can be. Often it is not so much because of the computer itself, but because of the increased pace or pressure to meet deadlines. Some computer workers experience less stress because the computer gives them better access to information, but for others stress is intensified. This can happen, for instance, when a system does not function well or when training has not been sufficient to properly operate the system. Better training as well as better work planning and organisation can overcome these problems. If you are finding your computer stressful, talk it over with your manager.

Q. Can computers cause headaches?

A. Yes, headaches can result from many factors associated with computer work. For example, stress from the pace of work, anxiety and tension, the need for new glasses or a change of lenses, poor image quality, glare from the screen, poor posture, or a combination of these. If you are experiencing headaches, you should check your workstation set up and consider the amount of time you are spending on your computer without breaks. If you are unable to find the problem causing you headaches and you feel they are work related, we suggest you contact your DSE assessor initially or OH Department.

Q. How long should I work with a computer?

A. This depends entirely on the type of work you are doing. You certainly should not work for more than one hour at a stretch without a change to some other activity, and taking a short posture break.

Q. What should I do if I’m pregnant?

A. You don't need to stop working with computers. If you are anxious about working with computers or about work generally during your pregnancy, you should:

  • organise your workstation so it is set up to meet your needs during the different stages of your pregnancy. You'll require more space etc as your baby grows
  • ensure that you take rest breaks away from your workstation as not to become fatigued
  • put your feet up during rest breaks to relieve any discomfort experienced should your feet swell
  • contact your local Occupational Health Advisor for confidential, specialist advice if you are still concerned. 

Q. What should I do if I have any problems?

A. If you have problems you think might be connected with your computer work you should talk to your manager or departmental DSE assessor. The Occupational Health Service can advise on problems that cannot be sorted out within the Service.