Office design, since the introduction of typewriter in the early 1900's up until mid- to late 1970's remained virtually unchanged. Dedicated word processing systems such as WANG, for example, started being used in mid-seventies. This was the beginning of a period of rapid changes in office technology. PCs that from early eighties become the main tool for office workers, continue transforming offices at an ever increasing pace. And it's not over yet.
All changes in the office environment were and still are driven by advances in technology. The overwhelming impact of computers on office work has resulted in redesigning the office around, if not for, the computer. In many instances the computers have changed not only the shape of the office and the way office work is done, but it has also affected even the lifestyle of office workers.
Like many other innovations, computers generated a great deal of resistance at first. People raised concerns about the effects of radiation on everything from their eyes, to their neck, shoulders, arms and back, even to their reproductive fertility and pregnancy outcome. Headaches, eyestrain, muscular tension, and suspicious clusters of miscarriages were widely reported. However, studies which have addressed these concerns have failed to prove that any measurable radiation, no matter how minimal, has been responsible for any of the adverse effects reported.
Nevertheless, one cannot discount the increasing numbers of dissatisfied and/or injured office workers: their discomfort and health problems are very real. There is very little doubt that working with computers (with emphasis on the actual work and not the computers themselves) causes or heavily contributes to these problems.
The number of people working with computers is ever growing: some estimate that soon they will account for more than half of the working population, creating the biggest challenge for occupational health and safety. What is even more alarming is the high number of complaints about discomforts and injuries. And, against all expectations, the wider application of ergonomic principles is not dramatically alleviating the problems. This creates a new challenge to convince computer operators and, as a matter of fact, all working people that their own health and well-being depends as much, if not more, upon their own actions rather than upon the institutionalized health care system. Prevention through participation may be the right approach. In other words, "the involvement of people in planning and controlling a significant amount of their own work activities, with sufficient knowledge and power to influence both processes and outcomes in order to achieve desirable goals".
Other documents listed in the Office Ergonomics Section of OSH Answers will discuss the hazards of working in computerized offices as well as how to prevent the resulting discomfort and injury.
Document last updated on July 31, 2007