|To your health|
|Written by Joe FaraceHits : 374|
|Thursday, 31 December 1998 19:00|
Sometimes graphics people find themselves so mesmerized by a monitor filled with high-resolution images, that they lose track of time. It's easy to get lost in a project, especially on deadline. But too much of anything--even a good thing like your computer--can be hazardous to your health. I'm not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV, but I'd like to pass along a few tips to make using your graphics computer a more healthful experience.
One of the biggest health issues facing computer users is damage to their vision. If you wear glasses, when was the last time you had an eye exam? An outdated eyeglass or contact lens prescription that blurs your vision, even slightly, can cause difficulty when working with your computer. If you have a previously undiagnosed vision problem, it will only become worse with increased computer use. Due to the aging process, you may have become farsighted, which means your eyes lose their ability to focus on close objects-such as a monitor. If you're farsighted, computer use forces your eyes to work harder than normal in order to perform the focusing effort. This additional work can cause eye strain and fatigue. Even with a current prescription, contact lens users face dry eye problems with extended computers use. To keep your eyes moist and healthy, you should consider using products such as artificial tears or other moisteners.
Here are a few tips about the ergonomics of vision and computer use that have been suggested by the American Optometric Association (AOA) and other medical and scientific groups: When viewing screens with dark backgrounds, it's a good idea to use low-level lighting in your workspace. The AOA suggests 20 to 70 foot-candles (lumens per square foot) or about one half the normal office lighting conditions. In other words, match the brightness of your monitor to that of the surrounding area.
Sometimes the simplest, least expensive computer accessory can make a big difference in your working conditions. One of the biggest environmental problems facing working digital imagers is monitor glare. Eyestrain, headaches and fatigue caused by the glare from monitors can create computer vision syndrome. The best solution is to place your monitor where glare is not a problem. I did this with two of the three computers I use each day, but my Mac OS computer still had a big glare problem. It can be solved with the new Polaroid AG400 anti-glare filter that includes a conductive coating that eliminates static (it gets rid of dust problems, too) and provides a 98 percent reduction in radiation. The filter is available in two sizes to fit screens from 13 inches to 18 inches, and includes a universal mounting system. Prices are $32.95 for the smaller size and $54.95 for the larger AG400.
If you want more aggressive glare protection, consider a polarizer. This product will eliminate 99 percent of the glare while enhancing contrast 18 times. Polaroid's CP-90 Contour filter even will protect against VLF (very low frequency) and ELF (extremely low frequency) electric field radiation and has a built-in grounding strap to eliminate static electricity. No matter what kind of monitor glare shield you get, be sure to purchase one that has the AOA Seal of Acceptance.
Where you sit in respect to your computer's screen is important, too. Your screen should be between 18 inches and 31 inches away from your eyes. When looking at the center of a screen, your head should be angled down slightly. If you need to refer to a document, place it at the same height and angle as the screen. Computer stores are full of document holders that you may have thought were useless accessories, but if you try one you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. If your monitor is too high or low, use a support to place it at a comfortable height. My 17-inch Power Computing monitor rests on a slim APC Smart UPS 400 uninterrupted power supply that places the monitor at the correct height while providing all of the standard UPS benefits.
Be sure to take task breaks throughout the day. This is a good idea not just for your eyes but also for the rest of your body. To maintain low stress level, muscle stress recovery needs to happen throughout the workday. San Francisco's Occupational Medicine Clinic recommends a 10-minute break at least once an hour and a computing day of no more than six hours. The British Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs recommends a 30-minute break with a maximum of two hours at the keyboard. Simon Legree-like managers who may be choking on these suggestion should keep in mind that having breaks not only helps make employees healthier (thus reducing medical insurance claims) but also makes them more productive.
There even is software to help you take breaks when you should, not when you remember to. If you work until your muscles start to ache, you've waited too long. CoffeeBreak is a shareware application that's designed to force you to take periodic breaks, reducing the chance of getting a repetitive stress injury. A dialog box lets you set the amount of work time, during which CoffeeBreak sits in the background with a timer displayed and an amount of break time. At that time you are urged to take a break from the computer. CoffeeBreak is available from a number of shareware sources.
Exercise is not just a good idea; it's something you should do each day. Put down the M&Ms and Mountain Dew for a few minutes and go take a walk or ride a bicycle. If you are in pain, see a doctor. While you're there, seek a few recommendations about an exercise program or health regimen. Just because you don't eat Doritos all day doesn't mean you have a healthful diet. Room temperature is an important issue--and not just for your computer. In the bad old days of computing, the first air conditioners many employees--myself included--encountered were those that the company installed to keep the computer cool. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends that office climate be kept between 73 and 79 degrees during the summer and 68 and 74 degrees during the winter. A relative humidity level between 30 and 60 percent is also recommended; because of Colorado's dry climate, I installed a humidifier in my home's furnace to add humidity to the warmed air. Those of you in the Puget Sound or similarly humid areas don't need one of these devices.
Keep your hands and arms warm too. Before pounding on those keys and grabbing that mouse, take a few minutes to gently stretch your hands to warm them. During the winter, my former home office was so cold (how cold was it?) that in order to keep my hands warm I had to use the same fingerless wool gloves I use for photography outdoors during chilly weather.
Last, pick up the book "Zap!" by Don Sellers. I consider this book to be the Bible of computer health issues. Published by Peachpit Press, it costs $12.95. Finally a personal suggestion from Dr. Farace. If you work alone--as do many photographers, artists and designers--treat yourself to a therapeutic massage once every three weeks. Even a half-hour upper body massage will loosen tight muscles. A massage also will help you sleep at night, since you won't be distracted by any muscle aches and pains.
Managers who want to be heroes can bring a masseuse into the office every three weeks to give their designers a massage. This will increase productivity, not just from the physical well being your employees will feel, but your good deed will produce results by showing that contrary to what many of them think, you do give a damn about them.