Computer Safety

Using a computer is not generally thought of as being one of the most hazardous activities to engage in. Yet health and safety risks do exist for both adults and children.

Internet Safety/Child Protection

While the internet serves as a wonderful educational tool, it is an unregulated one and teachers, parents and children should be aware of the inherent dangers of using the world wide web and accessing material on computers, mobile phones or other devices. Caution needs to be exercised to ensure that children do not access unsuitable adult material on the internet:

  • Home/school internet contracts should be in place
  • Preview internet material to be used for schoolwork
  • Computers should be placed in public areas and screen content should be visible to everyone
  • Teach children how to use the internet safely and warn them of the potential dangers of unsuitable sites and chat rooms
  • Advise children never to give out personal details on the internet
  • Have clear penalties in place for misuse of the internet
  • Monitor time children spend online
  • Purchase filtering software.

Many schools now have their own websites. Within the school website ensure that no individual child could be identified and subsequently contacted by visitors to the site.

For advice for children, parents and teachers concerning using the internet safely, go to Childnet.

Additional information

Physical Hazards

Accidents involving computers are increasing year after year as more people use computers both at work and at home. In 1998 around 1,500 people in the UK went to hospital as a result of an accident in the home involving a computer1. To give some examples:

  • A six-year-old boy suffered burns from a fire caused by spilling a drink on a computer
  • A nine-year-old boy suffered a head injury after a computer stored on top of a wardrobe fell on him
  • A nine-year-old girl was treated for bruising after falling down the stairs while attempting to move her computer
  • A 15-year-old boy needed treatment for cuts after he threw his arms up in the air after winning a computer game and then brought his arm down on a glass on the desk
  • An 18-year-old man suffered the effects of an electric shock whilst setting up his computer
  • A 38-year-old man suffered a sprained wrist after playing computer games for five hours.

Computers should not be seen as toys but as items of electrical equipment to be treated with respect.

Tips to minimise the risk of a computer-related accident:

  • Site your computer near an electric socket to avoid trailing wires across the floor; if you use an extension cable make sure it doesn't overheat and nobody can trip over it
  • Take care not to overload electric sockets; use trailing multi-socket units rather than plug adapters
  • Always follow installation and service instructions in your computer guidebook closely. If in doubt, leave it to the experts
  • Electricity and water do not mix - keep drinks and plants well away from computers
  • Regularly check all electrical equipment for damaged plugs or frayed cables
  • Computers are large and bulky pieces of equipment, move them only if you feel confident in doing so, and with care, especially up and down stairs. Use a trolley and a lift and ask for help. Do not allow children to move computers
  • Do not allow children to play on or with computer swivel chairs
  • Make sure the computer is sited in a position where you have plenty of room to move and to get out of the room in an emergency.

Health Risk

There are a number of health risks from using computers, most of which can be minimised or eliminated by awareness of the risks and by following advice available.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

RSI results from performing repetitive movements, e.g. using the mouse, for a long period of time. The following tips are among many that will help you to avoid RSI:

  • Organise workloads to avoid using the computer for extended periods of time
  • Your screen, keyboard and mouse should be directly in front of you
  • Using document holders avoids having to lean over and bend your neck while looking at paperwork
  • Make sure the space underneath your desk is free from clutter and your legs have room to move
  • Use your mouse as close to the keyboard as possible
  • Adopt good posture while at the computer
  • Know how to adjust your chair to the most comfortable position
  • Minimise head and neck movements by altering the height of your monitor
  • Small people and children should use footrests
  • Wrist rests are not for use while typing, but for resting the wrists between spells of typing.

Strained Eyes

Working for long periods of time on the computer can strain your eyes or can worsen existing eye conditions. Symptoms include eye discomfort, headaches, itchy eyes and difficulty in focusing. It is important to rest the eyes while working on the computer. Regularly look at more distant objects, e.g. use thinking time to look out of the window, and take frequent breaks from computer work. Visit the optician for regular eye check-ups and make sure you tell them if you are a frequent computer user.


Computer work can be stressful. Take frequent breaks and avoid work overload.

Emotional Safety Considerations

Extract from Professor Tyron Review March 2008 p33-34

Safer Children in a Digital World

Exposure to technology could offer opportunities for families to enrich their child's capacity to understand emotions, feelings and moral values, or could both extend or displace this important communicative learning experience.

2.19 One of the key ways children learn about emotions, feelings and moral transgressions is by discussing feelings, emotions and behaviour (usually in the family context). Technology could provide a context in which families could extend this kind of learning in the child through shared experiences and discussions around, for example, the morality of content or, alternatively, it could have a detrimental impact if these discussions do not take place and are replaced by excessive exposure to potentially inappropriate material that is not then discussed.

2.20 These basic forms of social learning experiences are used by some researchers to suggest that, for example, playing violent video games causes harm and could lead to long term behaviour problems and violent tendencies. From what we know about children's development it seems that the nature of the experience during a video game might be very important in determining children's subsequent behaviour; although quite what the long-term impact of this might be, or what other factors in the child's individual make-up or experience modulate this learning mechanism is unclear and needs to be considered as we take a probability of risk approach.

2.21 However, it does appear that the child's social context is an important factor in mediating learning through game playing – i.e. violent content may lead to sustained learning about violent behaviour in children where violence is the norm (the game playing reinforcing and validating real world experiences). This is supported by evidence that some brain mechanisms (e.g. mirror neurones) appear to be experience-dependent and only respond to actions that the person has previously experienced (Johnson, 2008). Therefore, if mirror neurones are only fired by the experience of violent online or game content in children who have experienced violence themselves, we can begin to speculate that longer term effects of negative or inappropriate content will be more likely to be seen in children who have similar negative experiences in the real world. More research is needed to clarify this so that we can identify which children are more vulnerable.

2.22 Furthermore, although we do not know how children learn from virtual reality, it is possible that if virtual experience outweighs other socialisation experiences, these virtual realities could have a dominating effect on how children perceive the world and the expectations their brains set up.

Action and interaction online may have an impact on children's sense of self and be a particular risk for those who are already vulnerable in the offline world.

Other concerns about the role of harmful or inappropriate material in technology is how children use online or virtual information or experiences to develop a sense of self – the inner working model of ourselves which drives how we think and feel about ourselves and in turn affects how we behave (e.g. emotional regulation, impulse control, self monitoring). For example, within some virtual worlds there is the potential to develop a new identity (called an 'avatar') and this raises the question of how this might affect the development of a young person's sense of 'self'. For the majority of people, the impact of new media on the development of the self are likely to be relatively insignificant since the system for developing it is strongly linked to very early attachment relationships in the offline world – e.g. with parents and carers. However, individuals who are vulnerable due to a poor early attachment experience, may turn to the internet to create a false identity e.g. via an avatar or to create a false profile on a social networking site which will allow them to change their representations of themselves, at least online. This could potentially have an impact on enabling them to work through difficult factors and increase self esteem when all else in their lives is difficult – to experience life as a different person. An important question here is what the impact of this might be on a vulnerable person and whether children's perceptions of themselves in real life are significantly affected by their other fantasy 'selves' which in turn may impact on their behaviour towards themselves and others either positively or negatively.

2.24 However there is clear evidence of harm within the virtual world when vulnerable children with a poor sense of self and low self esteem are 'seduced' and flattered by others who represent themselves falsely within the virtual world (e.g. online predators pretending to be children) (CEOP, 2007).

2.25 Other concerns in this area centre on what children learn from the vast world wide web of information available to them and how they can be influenced by this and also who can influence them with thoughts and ideas. Certainly the internet seems to be a source of support and comfort in certain situations as a means by which individuals can share difficult experiences and gain support. However, there are examples where the very vulnerable may access information and even persuasion by others which may encourage them or even lead them to harm themselves (suicide websites; pro-anorexia sites etc.). While the online space can provide a supportive environment and de-stigmatise the discussion of mental health or emotional difficulties and enable those in distress to find sources of advice and support, what is clear is that there exists a significant probability of risk for some individuals with mental health and other vulnerabilities who engage with such material online.


Although this is a small risk, epileptic seizures can be triggered by computer work, usually through excessive screen flicker. Know what to do if a child has an epileptic seizure. (National Society for Epilepsy, 01494 601300,

For further information on safe and comfortable computer use refer to –

  • 14 steps to safe and comfortable computer use - the practical ergonomics approach by Robert Down of Ergonomos Limited, ISBN 0-9539071-0-4 (August 2000)
  • Always Use Protection: A Teen's Guide to Safe Computing by Dan Appleman, ISBN 159059326X (April 2004)
  • Computer Safety [Kindle Edition] by V.M van EEden (February 2012)

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