Video Display Terminals: A Shocking
Terminal Shock, by Bob DeMatteo,
NC Press Limited, Toronto, 224 pages, $11.95
Reviewed by Noelle Boughton
It is no secret that people who work on video display terminals
can suffer from eye strain, pregnancy problems, sore necks and tight
back muscles. But Bob DeMatteo's new book Terminal Shock:
The Health Hazards of Video Display Terminals, shows these
are only some of the problems VDT users may face.
In his thorough examination of VDT hazards and their health effects,
DeMatteo presents an alarming list of potential health dangers to
people working with or near VDTs. Radiation from VDTs can cause
cataracts, defects in both male and female users' offspring and
deteriorated vision. Muscular aches and pains caused by prolonged
VDT use can develop into chronic fatigue, and fingers and wrists
can suffer from such repetitive strain injuries as tendonitis, tenosynovitis
and carpal tunnel syndrome.
DeMatteo, who has co-ordinated Occupational Health and Safety for
the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in Toronto for seven
years, adds that lighting, chair and desk height and keyboard slant
can increase the hazards to a VDT user's health. He even challenges
the use of lead aprons to protect the fetus of a pregnant woman
employee. He argues that their benefits are negligible while their
added weight can affect a person's posture.
Terminal Shock presents VDT hazards in a well-documented
manner. DeMatteo looks at each type of radiation and hazard which
a VDT can present and spells out how each can affect health. In
each instance, he draws on studies and cases from Canada, the U.S.,
Europe, Britain, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. The result
is an eye-opening account which will make any VDT user think twice
about going back to his or her machine.
DeMatteo is thorough. He examines each type of ionizing and non-ionizing
radiation which VDTs can generate such as x-ray, ultraviolet,
microwave and radio frequency and examines other factors,
such as pulsed electromagnetic fields. He explains what each is,
how it is generated by a VDT and its effect on human health. And
then he goes on to look at how these may combine in their effects.
But therein lies one of Terminal Shock's major problems.
Many of the explanations in this first half of the book are so technical
it's hard for the average communicator to wade through them. Whole
paragraphs are often rendered meaningless by such technical words
and phrases as Hz to kHz, flyback transformers and horizontal deflection
coils, upper and lower harmonics.
DeMatteo moves from this highly technical section to others on monitoring
VDT emissions, do-it-yourself ways to shield a VDT and reduce the
amount of radiation reaching a user, and legislation and workers'
compensation settlements regarding VDTs and workers. For the most
part, the second half of the book is much easier to follow and very
Most of DeMatteo's solutions are useful, but are geared to government,
manufacturer and employer. These include changing a VDT's design,
tightening up emission standards or improving the workplace environment.
Very few suggestions are for workers who want to decrease the impact
of potential hazards. One that is, however, is to take a 10-minute
break after each hour of VDT use so fatigue cannot accumulate as
DeMatteo may be right that responsibility for a worker's health
should rest with employer rather than employee. That is obviously
part of the pro-labor, anti-company and anti-government bias he shows throughout his book and it is small
comfort to workers who want to improve their situations.
Terminal Shock leaves some unanswered questions such
as how dangerous are VDTs being sold in Canada and what is the impact
of prolonged VDT exposure on women who are not pregnant but who
may later want a child. But despite these flaws and the technical
jargon, the book is a good primer for educated Canadian VDT users.
It is thorough, provides Canadian data and can certainly increase
your understanding of VDT-related health hazards.
Noelle Boughton is a freelance writer living in Mississauga,
Published in Sources, Summer 1986
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