CS 302 Professional Issues

Chapter 5 - Health & Safety Considerations

§5.0 Historical Background §5.3 Safety in Computing Design
§5.1 The Heath & Safety at Work Act §5.4 Safe Use of Computers
§5.2 Safety in Engineering Design §5.5 Risk Management

Previous Reading: Finance: Funding & Legal Requirements

§5.0 Historical Background

Many of today's dominating companies are relatively modern ... but equally many are much older, or have their roots buried in the past

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

Of course, these emphases on health and safety were not wholly new

By the 1960's, there was a plethora of industrial and safety law

... 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

Though there have been many changes of safety practice and regulation since, the thrust of the Act stands unaltered ...

... and affects us all.

§5.1 Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974

The Robens report went back to first principles

Robens came to concentrate on two points

  1. people cause - and prevent - accidents

    • people not systems

  2. 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

and a general duty of care providing

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

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

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

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)

§5.2 Safety in Engineering Design

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

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.

§5.3 Safety in Computing Design

The application of computing knowledge is simply a branch of engineering practice

Our computing work is, mainly, not inherently dangerous

As computer science managers or practioners, we face a sharp responsibility

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?

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

§5.4 Safe Use of Computers

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

... 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

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:

VDU Environment
Figure 1 (above)
Workstation and Environment

Figure 2 (below)
Seating and Posture for Office Use
  1. Adequate lighting.
  2. Adequate contrast, no glare or distracting reflections.
  3. Distracting noises minimised.
  4. Leg room and clearances to allow postural changes.
  5. Window covering.
  6. Software appropriate to task, adapted to user, provides feedback on system status, no undisclosed monitoring.
  7. Screen: stable image, adjustable, glare / reflection free.
  8. Keyboard: usable, adjustable, detachable, legible.
  9. Work surface: allows flexible arrangements, spacious, glare free.
  10. Work chair: adjustable.
  11. Footrest (if needed).
  1. Seat back adjustability.
  2. Good lumbar support.
  3. Seat height adjustability.
  4. No excess pressure on underside of thighs or backs of knees.
  5. Foot support if needed.
  6. Space for postural change, no obstacles under desk.
  7. Forearms approximately horizontal.
  8. Minimal extension, flexion or deviation of wrists.
  9. Screen height and angle should allow comfortable head position.
  10. Space in front of keyboard to support hands / wrists during pauses in keying.
VDU Seating

Take the pictures

Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility!

§5.5 Risk Management

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

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:

Now is not the time nor is this class the place for allowing approaches - solutions, even - to be studied

So ... what do we mean by "professional"?

© Paul Goldfinch 2008 Next Chapter Return to CS 302 Menu