Safety Basics

The vast majority of people don’t actively think about safety when using a computer or other devices, although most automatically use common sense to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, there are those, who, through ignorance or sheer carelessness, put themselves and other people at risk.

The Legal Position

Apart from a moral responsibility, those within a ‘place of work’ who ignore safety issues leave themselves open to prosecution. For example, legislation in the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) and its subsequent additions make both employer and employees accountable to the criminal courts for any death or injury at a place of work.

In recent years there has also be an increase in litigation for damages, which are carried through the civil courts. Unlike a criminal prosecution, however, a lower level of proof of negligence is required and the amounts paid in compensation can often be astronomic. Although some protection can be provided by using a public liability insurance policy or a special policy, the insurance company can refuse to pay out if the owners of the policy have been criminally negligent.

Generally speaking, an employer can usually avoid criminal or civil prosecution if proof is provided that reasonable care was taken to avoid damaging the health or safety of employees. This usually involves the setting up of a safety regime, with regular safety checks being made and recorded, as well as appropriate safety training. Unfortunately, such practices often stifle the natural instincts of those at work, ironically compromising safety in the process.

Safety Aspects

Safety risks are divided into physical, electrical and chemical hazards, any of which can be connected with the greatest danger of all, fire. Although there’s a legal requirement to consider all of these aspects at a place of work, there’s also a moral aspect in the domestic environment.

Physical Safety

This aspect is primarily concerned with objects that could impede movement, perhaps during evacuation in an emergency, or that could cause physical injuries. Examples include:

To summarise this in a rather trite phrase: ‘a tidy workplace is a safe workplace’.

VDU Safety

This is an area of safety that’s often neglected: most people simply place a computer and screen on a table and then proceed to use it, without any consideration of posture and eyesight. By making a few simple changes you can improve your general comfort and avoid harming your health.


This shouldn’t result in any glare or reflections on the screen, which might otherwise cause eye strain. Only indirect light should reach the screen, which can provided by:-

Walls0.2 to 0.8
CeilingsLess than 0.6
Floors0.2 to 0.4


The positioning of a screen, keyboard, seating and work surface should be tailored to suit the individual concerned. The following general guidelines apply:-


The amount of ionising radiation (X rays) produced by traditional CRT-based displays has been a contentious subject for years. Generally speaking, most modern display devices produce very little radiation, although if a user is concerned about this it may be easier to install an LCD screen.

Having said this, the amount of radiation produced by a display must be tested, and should be found to be less than 0.75 mrem/h (EMSC Guidance Paper 8 - Ionising Radiation applies). The amount of ultra violet (UV) radiation produced by CRTs is generally accepted as harmless.

Display Quality

A VDU shouldn’t exhibit any of the following problems:-


Some laser devices produce a large amount of optical power, which has the potential to damage eyesight. Those used inside modern devices such as CD players are classified as follows:-

Note that these classes refer to the leakage of laser light from equipment as a whole, which means that, for example, a Class 1 device can contain a Class 3 laser, making the equipment far more dangerous when it’s partly dismantled.

Sound Levels

Exposure to a high sound pressure levels (SPLs), as produced in a recording studio, can cause long-term hearing damage. In some instances, ear defenders are used, although these are unsuitable in a sound studio where high-powered loudspeakers should carry a safety warning.

Headphones are also a potential hazard, often generating surprisingly high levels of sound. It is of course possible to ‘hard wire’ headsets to a special amplifier that has SPL indicators, although these need to be calibrated on a routine basis.

Electrical Safety

The electrical system within a area can be separated into the electrical installation, forming part of the fabric of the building, and individual devices, usually in the form of portable appliances.

Generally speaking, modern installations and devices conform to a host of international standards, which makes them intrinsically safe, but only when used in the manner for which they were designed. For example, if you threw a heater into a swimming pool to warm it up, the device would either blow the fuse or circuit breaker, or you’d be electrocuted, since water often conducts electricity.

Both the installation and the separate devices must be checked for compliance with safety requirements and then rechecked on a regular basis.

Chemical Safety

Chemicals are covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations. Any substances whose package carries an orange rectangle comes under these rules. Such a rectangle (or rectangles) can contain one of the following:-

Small quantities of COSHH substances, such as correcting fluid, can be held in an office environment, but larger amounts must be locked into a designated cabinet. Safety information sheets must be provided for all chemicals in the workplace, allowing users to assess the risks, if any, associated with each substance. The following terms sometimes appear on such COSHH data sheets:-


The causes of a fire can include:-

The following should always be in good order:-

The following shouldn’t be present:-

In the Event of Fire

The following things are essential:-

©Ray White 2004.