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Software reported as a health risk!

By Richard Whitehand, December 2001

A piece of software called IPS, used for publication of news articles on the web by newspapers, is widely disliked amongst editors at some newspapers. This is due to its requirement for intensive and repetitive mouse usage with resulting "mouse arm" complaints from some editors. The health and safety officer at one newspaper, Ny Teknik (New Technology), has now formally reported the software to the Swedish Work Environment Inspectorate. (Source: Arbetarskydd nr 7, 2001)

The EC Directive 90/270/EEC states minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment and includes a section relating to software, which states:

  • "In designing, selecting, commissioning and modifying software, and in designing tasks using display screen equipment, the employer shall take into account the following principles:
  • (a) software must be suitable for the task;
  • (b) software must be easy to use and, where appropriate, adaptable to the operator's level of knowledge or experience; no quantitative or qualitative checking facility may be used without the knowledge of the workers;
  • (c) systems must provide feedback to workers on their performance;
  • (d) systems must display information in a format and at a pace which are adapted to operators;
  • (e) the principles of software ergonomics must be applied, in particular to human data processing."

The responsibility for ensuring that suitable software is used by employees is thus the responsibility of the employer. However, there are clearly steps that can be taken by software developers in order to ensure that it is possible for employers to choose and implement their software in a way which conforms with the directive.

Such steps should include:

  • Adopting a user-centred development process (e.g. as described in ISO 13407)
  • A statement of the 'context of use' (users, tasks and environments) in which it is appropriate to use the software
  • A statement of compliance with appropriate interface design guidelines (e.g. parts of ISO 9241)

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