VDT Health Hazards Cause Increased Concern

By Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, March 1991 | Go to article overview

VDT Health Hazards Cause Increased Concern


Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


VDT health hazards cause increased concern

The growing concern over possible health hazard from video display terminal use reached a new level late last year when a law went into effect in San Francisco regulating the use of VDTs (AL, Feb., p. 119-120). The law, which mandates ergonomically sound workstations, frequent breaks, and safety education for workers, is being closely watched by businesses and labor unions around the country, who feel it could lead the way to similar legislation elsewhere.

The San Francisco law follows a bill passed in 1988 in Suffolk County, N.Y., that was set aside by a state court; that ruling is presently under appeal. Both laws focus on repetitive motion injuries, eyestrain, headaches, and other health problems linked to computer use; neither address radiation from VDTs, which is believed by some to cause cancer or pregnancy problems. An advisory committee in San Francisco will study the issue.

Most libraries are safe

Libraries and consultants contacted by AL indicated that many libraries may not have much to fear from the prospect of such laws. Richard W. Boss of Information Systems Consultants, Inc., said that most libraries would probably have too few employees to fall within the scope of the regulations (San Francisco's law only covers companies with 15 or more employees); additionally, Boss added, if the laws were directed at industrial business, educational institutions might not be affected.

Business groups in San Francisco fought the law, claiming that compliance would cost private employers over $100 million; the city's budget analyst placed the figure at between $31.5 and $76.5 million. Boss cited a study by a local insurance company with some 1,800 employees that put the cost (which involved replacing chairs, workstations, and desks) at $575 per employee.

"Corporations are not doing themselves a favor by complaining about the cost of retrofitting to comply," said Boss. Since most of the requirements will result in increased productivity, self-enlightened employers will have already made many of the improvements, he said.

Ergonomics at LC

Many, perhaps most, libraries already consider ergonomics when selecting computer equipment and furniture. At the Library of Congress, the nation's largest library, Director of Integrated Support Systems James R. Trew said, "We have always been concerned about the health and safety issues" involved in VDT work. He told AL the library's construction and design unit always keeps ergonomic factors in mind when designing workstations have adjustable chairs and screens (for avoiding glare).

A survey of 355 LC employees last year cited headaches, vision disorders, and other health concerns among staff who work at VDTs (AL Jan., p. 15). A committee of employees, mostly catalogers, from the Collection Services Department was formed last March to investigate the issue and make recommendations to management. …

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