Information Paper for the LegCo Panel on Manpower
Occupational Health for Computer Operators


With the growing use of computers in commerce and communications, more and more operators are spending a significant part of their normal working hours in workstations working with computers, for example financial dealers, data input operators, word processing operators, computer graphic designers, telecommunication operators, etc.

2. In some office settings, a large number of computer operators in effect work as part of a service system. They often work in physically cramped conditions, for long hours without breaks, and are under considerable pressure to enter data accurately and quickly and read information on the screen. Such working environment and practices can lead to musculoskeletal and visual problems caused by constrained posture, poor visual quality of screens, repetitive and intensive keyboard operation, and highly paced and controlled patterns of work. While many of these health problems are temporary and may be relieved after work, they can deteriorate into chronic illnesses if ignored.

Health Problems of Computer Operators

3. The Occupational Safety and Health Council conducted a study in 1997 on the occupational health of computer operators in nine trades including banking, finance and investment, communications, travel agents, legal firms, architectural companies, etc. The study revealed that in the preceding 12 months, 74% of the operators had eye discomfort, 56% had neck discomfort, 57% had shoulder discomfort, 47% had upper back discomfort, 48% had lower back discomfort, and some 9%-22% had discomfort in various areas of the arm. It further revealed that the work and household performance of some 36% and 20% of the operators were affected adversely by eye discomfort and neck, shoulder or back discomfort respectively.

4. On the other hand, of the 71 cases of tenosynovitis affecting the hand or forearm (a notifiable occupational disease with inflammation of tendons or tendon sheaths of hand or forearm) notified to the Labour Department in 1998, six were likely to be caused by computer work.

5. In fact, a large number of overseas studies have reported similar prevalence of visual problems and musculoskeletal disorders among computer operators. The reported prevalence of visual problems is up to 80%, whereas that of musculoskeletal disorders in general ranges from 10% to 29%. Specifically, neck problems have been reported in 40%-49%, and wrist problems in 10%-19% of computer operators in some of these studies.

6. These health problems can be prevented by attending to the design of computer workstations e.g. adjustable height of chairs and position of screens, working posture, work environment and work organization.

7. Having regard to these concerns and bearing in mind our intention to make Hong Kong a world-class service and communication centre, we should be tackling this growing ergonomic problem with earnest.

Promotion and Education

8. On promoting occupational health for computer operators, we have published three sets of guidelines, which are "Health Guide on the Use of Visual Display Unit", "Lighting in Offices" and "Occupational Health in Office Environment". A copy of these guidelines is at Annex I. These guidelines provide computer operators with information and advice regarding common health problems associated with computer work, requirements of an ergonomically designed computer workstation, proper working posture, etc. Another set of guidelines on health risk assessment of computer workstations is also under preparation.

9. In addition, in a bid to promote ergonomically designed furniture for computer work, the Labour Department has written to all local furniture suppliers to inform them of the requirements of such furniture so as to prepare the market for the anticipated increase in demand.

10. The Occupational Safety and Health Council has also published articles on the prevention of computer-related health problems in its "Green Cross" magazine, and two pamphlets on "Proper Use of Visual Display Terminals", "Working Posture", "Design of Office Workstations", and "Lighting in Offices". A copy of some of these articles and the pamphlets is at Annex II.

Legislative Proposal

11. With a view to protecting the safety and health of employees exposed to the risks associated with the use of computers, we are proposing an Occupational Safety and Health (Display Screen Equipment) Regulation. It provides for a framework for such purpose, including risk assessment, provision of suitable workstations, provision of information regarding results of the risk assessment and actions taken for reducing the risks, and provision of safety and health training. This proposal has been endorsed by the Labour Advisory Board and the Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. We plan to introduce the proposed regulation into the Legislative Council later this year.

Labour Department
June 1999