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Assessing our digital work environments

The pandemic has probably meant most of us now understand that digital working is a clear part of professional life. We spend the majority of our working days in Zoom meetings, checking email or dealing with various types of digital support systems. For many people the physical, social and organisational work environment has perhaps become more apparent in that we are mainly working from home…

Occupational health and safety legislation requires employers and employees to systematically work together on health and safety issues. Occupational health and safety issues should be investigated and risk assessed on an ongoing basis and then actions should accordingly be proposed and prioritised to address any concerns.

People looking at a computerscreen
Assessing the digital work environment to identify usabilityproblems and risks. (Photo: Jan Gulliksen)

Checks should be made to ensure that such actions have been implemented and contributed to positive changes. Health and Safety Officers play an important role in systematic occupational health and safety work and health and safety inspection rounds are one of the tools that they use. And while the foundations of occupational health and safety legislation date as far back as 1977, in purely legal terms, digital environments are also part of occupational health and safety.

A year ago, I blogged about my experiences of trialling digital health and safety assessments at the Administrative Court in Gothenburg. I did this work as a researcher and the results are in the process of being scientifically published. What’s more, the research findings have also contributed to enabling a new Swedish Standard to be developed entitled “Usability Assessments”. It was published as recently as February this year.

A usability assessment means that a team made up of e.g. a health and safety officer, representative of the IT department, and the line manager, visit an employee at their place of work and with the aid of tools from the standard, they assess the digital work environment to identify usability problems and risks. Based on this, they define an action programme naming who is responsible for implementation that can then be prioritised and included in the development plan for the future.

At KTH, we aim to provide a good example and show that we care about our digital work environments. We are therefore going test Usability Assessments at KTH. We have received support from the Central Collaboration Group to implement pilot studies of usability assessments within the parameters of Education and Research Support.

If these trials go well, we aim to introduce this as part of systematic occupational health and safety work throughout our entire organisation.

So, if everything goes accordning plan, we can look forward to a future where our digital work environments are given a systematic health and safety assessment and any corrective actions implemented to ensure we can gradually develop more usable digital work environments whether we work from home, stand at a lectern, sit in a meeting room or are in the office.

Worth reading: SIS/TS 904501:2021 Ergonomics of Human System Interaction – Usability Assessments. https://www.sis.se/produkter/ledningssystem-e07b0fe8/ledningssystem-for-arbetsmiljo/sists-9045012021/

Gulliksen J. (2021) Digital Work Environment Assessment – Systematic Usability Assessments Supported by the Legislation. Accepted for IFIP TC 13  Conference on Human Computer Interaction INTERACT 2021 in Bari, August 30-September 3, Springer Publication.