Jane Mitra, of the Parent's Information Network, offers advice to help children use computers safely
With so many children having access to a computer at home, teachers are being asked for a wider range of advice by parents - not just what software to buy, but also how to avoid injury through over-use and what is the best workstation furniture. Here are some useful pointers for teachers to pass on to parents.
* Weight - Computer equipment is often heavy even when it is marketed as portable. As well as taking computers to and from school, there is now a trend for children to bring their computers to each other's houses for gaming sessions. Parents should ensure they do not carry anything that is too heavy for them.
* Sound - In many homes the computer is located in a busy family area, so headphones are used to allow several activities to go on at once. It is important to check that the volume is not too high, as prolonged exposure to loud noise through headphones can cause permanent hearing loss. Parents should consult their doctor if they have any concerns about their child's hearing.
* Vision - A small number of children are at risk of epileptic seizures from flashing lights or excessive screen flicker. All children should undergo regular eye checks and any concerns should be investigated. Screens should be positioned to avoid glare from windows or room lights and parents should know how to change the font size or screen resolution to make viewing more comfortable.
* Electricity - Just like a TV or video recorder, any computer equipment connected to the mains is a potential safety hazard. Parents should avoid having trailing leads (especially in an area where young children play) and check regularly to make sure that each piece of equipment is on a stable surface with no blocked ventilation grills.
* Posture - The way children sit when they use a computer is very important. They should have enough space to work comfortably with back support, under-foot support (using a box or foot rest) and the top of the screen display should be at eye level or slightly below.
* Fatigue - All the muscles used during a session at the computer can become over-tired, including eye muscles. Stretching, rest and recovery are simple routines to teach and can prevent the build-up of muscle strain. Eyes can be refreshed by focusing on distant then near objects. Children should take a break from the computer at least every 20 minutes.
* Size - Children with small hands may need a small mouse so they do not strain their hand and wrist muscles. Soft palm rests to support hands are widely available as are small keyboards and trackerballs specially designed for children.
For more advice visit the health and safety section of the Department for Education and Skills Superhighway safety website at http:safety.ngfl.gov.uk schoolsdocument.php3?D=d9
3M has developed an educational site which teaches the fundamentals of ergonomics at www.3m.comcwsselfhelpintroto.html
Ergonomics guidelines for computer use by children are available from Cornell University http:ergo.human.cornell.educuweguideline.htm
The Repetitive Strain Injury Association at www.rsi.org.uk
The health and safety section of the PIN (Parents Information Network) website can be found at: www.pin.org.uksafetysafetyset.htm