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Software and the law
Software and the law

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6.7 Best practice in health-and-safety regulations

Physical problems such as RSI (repetitive strain injury) have been attributed to prolonged computer use. Concerned about this, the European Union decided to act to require employers to follow best industrial practice. In May 1990 the EU issued a directive on display screen equipment (European Union, 1990), detailed in Case study 7. This provides an example of how good practice might be brought into regulations. If a worker suffered ill-health and it was found that laws relating to health and safety at work had been flouted, the worker would have a case for compensation.

Case study 7: European directive on display screen equipment

The substance of this directive is the employer’s obligations, covered in Articles 3 to 9 and quoted below.

Article 3: Analysis of workstations

  1. Employers shall be obliged to perform an analysis of workstations in order to evaluate the safety and health conditions to which they give rise for their workers, particularly as regards possible risks to eyesight, physical problems and problems of mental stress.
  2. Employers shall take appropriate measures to remedy the risks found, on the basis of the evaluation referred to in paragraph 1, taking account of the additional and/or combined effects of the risks so found.

Article 4: Workstations put into service for the first time

Employers must take the appropriate steps to ensure that workstations first put into service after 31 December 1992 meet the minimum requirements laid down in the Annex.

Article 5: Workstations already put into service

Employers must take the appropriate steps to ensure that workstations already put into service on or before 31 December 1992 are adapted to comply with the minimum requirements laid down in the Annex not later than four years after that date.

Article 6: Information for, and training of, workers

  1. Without prejudice to Article 10 of Directive 89/391/EEC, workers shall receive information on all aspects of safety and health relating to their workstation, in particular information on such measures applicable to workstations as are implemented under Articles 3, 7 and 9.

    In all cases, workers or their representatives shall be informed of any health and safety measure taken in compliance with this Directive.

  2. Without prejudice to Article 12 of Directive 89/391/EEC, every worker shall also receive training in use of the workstation before commencing this type of work and whenever the organization of the workstation is substantially modified.

Article 7: Daily work routine

The employer must plan the worker’s activities in such a way that daily work on a display screen is periodically interrupted by breaks or changes of activity reducing the workload at the display screen.

Article 8: Worker consultation and participation

Consultation and participation of workers and/or their representatives shall take place in accordance with Article 11 of Directive 89/391/EEC on the matters covered by this Directive, including its Annex.

Article 9: Protection of workers’ eyes and eyesight

  1. Workers shall be entitled to an appropriate eye and eyesight test carried out by a person with the necessary capabilities:
    • before commencing display screen work
    • at regular intervals thereafter, and
    • if they experience visual difficulties which may be due to display screen work.
  2. Workers shall be entitled to an ophthalmological examination if the results of the test referred to in paragraph 1 show that this is necessary.
  3. If the results of the test referred to in paragraph 1 or of the examination referred to in paragraph 2 show that it is necessary and if normal corrective appliances cannot be used, workers must be provided with special corrective appliances appropriate for the work concerned.
  4. Measures taken pursuant to this Article may in no circumstances involve workers in additional financial cost.
  5. Protection of workers’ eyes and eyesight may be provided as part of a national health system.
European Union (1990)

This directive makes good sense, and European national governments have absorbed this directive into their own laws and issued guidance – see, for example, the website of the UK’s Health and Safety Executive [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

The act of using computers and software in the workplace could also do users harm, and needs regulation.