CS 302 Professional Issues
Chapter 5 - Health & Safety Considerations
||Safety in Computing Design
||The Heath & Safety at Work Act
||Safe Use of Computers
||Safety in Engineering Design
Finance: Funding & Legal Requirements
Many of today's dominating companies are relatively modern ... but equally many are much older, or have their roots buried in the past
- in an era when (as still holds today, though in rather different fashion) great success awaited the bold and the adventurous
- but where lives were cheap, especially workers' lives
Much of the reaction which ultimately changed this view of life came from consideration of the conditions under which the miners worked.
As an aside, from 1606 through to 1800 or thereabouts, Scottish miners were effectively enslaved for life, as a consequence of a law which required them to have written permission to leave (or to enter) life in the pits and the mining villages. To leave without written opermission - something which for fairly obvious reasons was not usually readily if at all forthcoming - was, legally, theft of the miners' own bodies!
A visit to the Scottish Mining Museum is strongly recommended, for general interest; it is to be found at The Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange, Midlothian (on the A7 road, maybe ten or fifteen kilometres south of Edinburgh).
Gradually working conditions in general, and especially those in the mines, became a matter of political concern
- In the United Kingdom, the most famous responses in this area were the acts piloted through parliament by Lord Shaftesbury
- his mines act of 1842 which prohibited the employment underground of women and children under the age of 13
- Something originally meeting resistance from both sides:
pit masters lost dedicated labour, whilst mining familes lost income;
but ultimately seen as a blessing by both sides
- then a succession of factories acts
- But as times passed many acts tried to enforce safer working and healthier condition for the workers.
Of course, these emphases on health and safety were not wholly new
- here in Glasgow, we have nearby the World Heritage Site of New Lanark, famous since the late eighteenth century for the improving work of David Dale and his son-in-law Robert Owen
- whilst the Romans, when working in well shafts 2000 years ago, used mats to line the edges to safeguard their ropes
... or, more cynically, saved Roman lives by the use of Hebrew slaves, as when besieging Massada under Titus
By the 1960's, there was a plethora of industrial and safety law
- on the safe propping of mine adits and shafts
- on acceptable temperatures in offices
- on the use of powered cutting tools
- on ...
... it was an almost endless list.
Appreciating the need for rationalisation, the then UK government appointed a Royal Commission under the the chairmanship of Lord [Alfred] Robens, for almost ten years previously Chairman of the National Coal Board
- leading to the Robens Report of 1972
- from which followed one of the great pieces of UK legislation of the twentieth century
- the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974
Though there have been many changes of safety practice and regulation since, the thrust of the Act stands unaltered ...
... and affects us all.
The Robens report went back to first principles
- it did not simply attempt to rationalise or to codify what had gone before
- but rather to simplify, to explain, to generalise
Robens came to concentrate on two points
- people cause - and prevent - accidents
- employment, of itself, generates a need for safety provision
- employment being no more than people coming together for reward
which between them became the centrepoints of the new legislation.
That being said, we can think of the Health & Safety at Work Act as a three-legged stool
to which are added a stable base of
- all employers must provide for and require safe working practices
- all employees have some responsibility for their own safety and for that of their colleagues
- consultation on safety is a right for all employees
and a general duty of care providing
- safety for visitors and customers
Notice how everyone in employment is involved - everyone has a pattern of individual responsibility.
But notice also that, in the context of the University, students are not employees
- even so, students still have responsibilities about safety
- as do the University and its staff to them.
To understand how the University ensures these responsibilities are met (both for saff and for students), consult the University Calendar, either on line or in the Andersonian Library, and look in particular at
- Regulation 6.5 Statement of Health & Safety Policy
- Regulation 6.6 Health & Safety Organisation
- both of which have been newly rewritten (in 2006), so as to be much clearer in the responsibilities allocated, though it has to be said that the excessive length is almost certainly counter-productive, since regulation 6.6 now runs to forty pages of text. In practice, brevity is often of greater value than detail!
Look also at the Area Safety Regulations for the Department of Computer & Information Sciences. If your study takes you regularly into other departments in the University, look at the area safety regulations for those departments; CES students in particular should make a point of looking again at the area safety regulations for the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, to be found in their printed course handbooks.
The Health & Safety Executive
- where necessary, prosecutes
Later, in §5.4, we shall look at an example of their safety regulations, in the context of computer use.
The Health & Safety Executive has sought to be the lead safety body in the European Community, something which - for Westminster political reasons - has not always been easy for them. As an example of the potential difficulties for HSE (and we shall meet exactly the same difficulties when we turn to study computers and the law)
- Consider the "right to consultation" which is enshrined in the Health & Safety at Work Act, in other words a right which has been defined by the United Kingdom's Westminster parliament
- But the relevant European directive goes much further
- Not only is there a right to consultation, but consultation has actually to take place
- HSE has, for the most worthy of motives, set itself the politically exposed task of trying to be the leader in applying something which exceeds the present requirements of the law of the land!
How to put this section into notes is a problem not yet cracked!
But, rather unkindly, we looked at the problems of bridge designers as giving us a particularly spectacular view of safety in design and reviewed in particular issues coming from the design of the
- Forth Railway Bridge
- Thomas Bouch' Forth Railway Bridge, and Sir Thomas himself
- First Tay Railway Bridge
- Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge, Seattle, Washington State
- Ballachulish Road Bridge
And what did we learn? One thing certainly: there is no absolute standard of safety in design ... but that we can work to make things safer.
The application of computing knowledge is simply a branch of engineering practice
- so why shoud we feel exempt from the need to strive for safety?
Our computing work is, mainly, not inherently dangerous
- but the systems we build can be a substantial source of danger, to users and to the general public
- as extreme examples, the computerised systems controlling modern
petro-chemical plants, or the takeoff, routing and landing of aircraft
As computer science managers or practioners, we face a sharp responsibility
- in ways only recently thought of as falling under the Health & Safety at Work Act
- but with serious ethical and professional implications (next chapters!)
The technical practices which follow from this sequence of thoughts are covered in detail, particularly on the software side, in other computer science classes given in the third and fourth years of undergraduate study. However, it is appropriate here to comment on two particular design concepts.
When designing software, are we solely concerned with the product, or does the process of design matter to us?
- We are driven to conclude that software engineering is the correct combination of software product and software process
- For we find that the product is not simply a program, but rather
|a time-stamped grouping of
- which immediately gives us potential product problems, not least the subsequent provision of software maintenance and reliance on specific hardware
- Can we cure our problems by using a nice, well-defined process?
- which should at least deal with such matters as the elimination of errors
- and get us beyond the historic hurdles of over-run on delivery time and on cost
- For our process will involve a series of rational steps, where every step will be defined in terms of
- definition (what?)
- development (how?)
- maintenance (required changes?)
- the aim being, of course, to achieve in a guaranteed fashion a package which is sufficiently fit for its purpose
when measured, as usual, in terms of
- Alas, we can do this successfully no more than can other engineers (and frequently, indeed, for sound technical reasons, not as well as them) ...
- ... but we can try!
So far the most successful approach along these lines has been - as in many other areas of engineering - through the application of design processes defined by international (or other) standards, for example the ISO 9000 range.
The second design strand comes from those areas where the risk associated with malfunction is recognised right from the start
- we have already had several very public examples (aircraft, petro-chemical complexes, nuclear plants)
- but think also, for example, of the software and hardware used in hospitals in support of delicate operations
or for the control of life support systems
- suddenly the significance of properly functioning systems is much more significant, much more critical
- we have moved into the area of safety critical systems, an area in which even more than usual safety really does matter.
The last section gave us the safety high ground so far as computer science is concerned!
But also there is an everyday level, one of immediate relevance to the Health & Safety at Work Act. We will discuss this in some detail, but do not let that detail - which, besides anything else, is important to each of us, at a personal level - do not let it distract from the crucial importance of the material in the previous section.
For example, circa 1989 the Health & Safety Executive issued guidelines on the safe use of visual display units, guidelines which were largely driven by concerns over
- risks to the muscular-skeletal system - from a poor sitting position
- risks of "RSI" - Repetitive Strain Injury - especially from a poor typing pose
- risks to the eyesight - from poor conditions of contrast and lighting
- risks of inducing epilepsy or related disorders - through bright or fast moving displays
- risks of mental stress - from the ability of computing systems to be checking on the work of their keyboard operators
- risks to the pregnant and the unborn child - where the fear of harm (from electromagnetic radiation) is at least as harmful as the equipment
... a surprisingly long list for our "obviously" harmless computing systems! It is easy to take these risks lightly; don't! The effects of RSI, for example, can be devastating, requiring a temporary - many months - withdrawal from all computer use.
In fact these rules were issued to comply with a European Directive rather than as an immediate consequence of the Health & Safety at Work Act
- but the difference is one of pedantry, concerning only the timing of the regulations and not their legal force
For a - free - HSE summary of the VDU Regulations, presently in the edition of 2006, see
or you can find closely related material in the local, derivative booklet
"Local Rules for the Safe Use of Display Screen Equipment" (University of Strathclyde, 1993).
This booklet includes the following two diagrams advising on the safe use of VDUs:
|Figure 1 (above)
Workstation and Environment
|Figure 2 (below)
Seating and Posture for Office Use
- Adequate lighting.
- Adequate contrast, no glare or distracting reflections.
- Distracting noises minimised.
- Leg room and clearances to allow postural changes.
- Window covering.
- Software appropriate to task, adapted to user, provides feedback on system status, no undisclosed monitoring.
- Screen: stable image, adjustable, glare / reflection free.
- Keyboard: usable, adjustable, detachable, legible.
- Work surface: allows flexible arrangements, spacious, glare free.
- Work chair: adjustable.
- Footrest (if needed).
- Seat back adjustability.
- Good lumbar support.
- Seat height adjustability.
- No excess pressure on underside of thighs or backs of knees.
- Foot support if needed.
- Space for postural change, no obstacles under desk.
- Forearms approximately horizontal.
- Minimal extension, flexion or deviation of wrists.
- Screen height and angle should allow comfortable head position.
- Space in front of keyboard to support hands / wrists during pauses in keying.
Take the pictures
- both as an example of the sort of safety rules which have to be put in place to satisfy the requirements of health and safety legislation
- and also (irrelevant to the act, but very much in its spirit!) as guidelines for your own use at home
Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility!
Health and Safety considerations have brought us to acknowledge the existence of an element of risk associated with our work.
Risk management is a complex matter which, until remarkably recently, has been little appreciated
- which is not to say that risk has been ignored (think of some of the many emergency schemes which have been prepared)
- but rather, that it has not been considered significant except in a remarkably limited range of circumstances
However, computer systems, because of their all pervading nature, have brought the matter of risk very much to the fore: if we have a system that relies on the integrity of a computer-based system - as these days many, many systems do - then it behoves us (especially if we have a responsibility for any part of that system) to take risk very seriously indeed:
- risk in the design of software and of hardware
- a major player in the development of software standards and the concepts of high integrity systems
- risk in the deployment of systems
- risk in the use of systems
- to counter risk, standby provisions at various levels
Now is not the time nor is this class the place for allowing approaches - solutions, even - to be studied
- but acknowledging the problem, that we have!
- and acknowledging the issues of risk, and dealing properly with them,
those are two of the major factors defining a professional approach
So ... what do we mean by "professional"?