Computer Safety At Work

Display Screen Equipment By Matthew Coombes

Part of a two-article series, this article looks at the safety issues that arise from using computers. To read the article about health issues when using a computer click here.

Computer equipment has become massively popular both in domestic and workplace settings, but there are some risks associated with using computers that should be considered. Aside from faults with the equipment at purchase, most issues will start to occur after prolonged use.

Risks associated with computer equipment

Exposure to electricity

Whether your computer is a basic office computer or an ‘all the bells and whistles’ gaming computer which glows and pulses like something from a sci-fi movie, it will be run using electricity supplied by the mains. While electricity can be contained and directed, it can’t be controlled per-se, and faults, damage, and issues with the equipment have the potential to result in an electric shock/electrocution.

In the United Kingdom, theoretically, the supply of power to your device should be interrupted if the equipment has a fault that results in an electrical discharge. Most commonly this will be because of a blown fuse in the power supply cable, the extension lead, the wall socket (where applicable), the electrical fuse board’s switch for that circuit, or the fuse board’s switch for the whole house (we have a lot of fuses in the UK!).

However, when equipment is faulty/damaged, you often won’t have any warning until you come into contact with the electrical current and receive an electric shock, for example, if a wire is damaged and you touching it is the first thing to allow it to discharge.

Electrical Fires

All equipment that draws power is also effectively drawing heat. The basic principles of fire are that a fire cannot start without a source of heat/ignition, a source of oxygen, and a source of fuel. Typically, in a setting where you have a PC this will be:

  • Oxygen from the atmosphere
  • Heat from your power source/wiring
  • Fuel such as paperwork, furnishings, cloth and other combustible materials

Friction Fires

While some high-end computers now use ‘water cooling’ most will have a cooling system that is simply a fan or multiple fans that draw cool air through the machine, and hot air away from the working parts.

Fans are renowned for causing fires through friction by generating heat as they spin, because they are in contact with other parts. This is often because they are poorly fitted, poorly made, or poorly maintained parts. A good example of this is that a fan which is slightly too big for its container may rub against it, or a fan that is poorly maintained may have a build up of dust, which can act as fuel for a fire to start.

Manual Handling

This may seem trivial or even a little over the top, but it’s not the weight of a computer that tends to present risks when it comes to manual handling, but more the awkwardness of the load being carried. High-performance or older computers can often be weightier, but typically issues arise from accessing them (i.e. pushing and pulling them under desks), picking them up/putting them down (and forgetting to bend with your knees!) or carefully transporting them, as they can be awkward shapes or the plastic cases may be slippery and sheer making them hard to grip.

Trip hazards

My work PC has power cables, monitor cables, an ethernet cable, keyboard, mouse, webcam and an extension lead – each one of these cables if left dangling or trailing can become a trip hazard and cause you or someone else to fall, often resulting in cuts, bruises, muscle strains or even broken bones.

Power cables from laptops are renowned for being a trip hazard, because laptops can be brought and used anywhere, and often building/room designers have not considered the need for accessible in-floor or from-ceiling power sockets.

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