Computers: Safer by The Screen

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The evidence is controversial, but many workers who toil at video display terminals believe the devices cause health problems ranging from stiff necks to miscarriages. Last week their complaints were heard. San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to regulate working conditions at VDTs. Under the new law, firms with 15 or more workers will have to supply antiglare shields, wrist rests and adjustable chairs. Workers with VDT shifts of four hours or longer will be entitled to a 15-minute break every two hours. The law covers some 56,000 workers.

In its original form, the bill drew complaints from executives who said the law could cost companies as much as $85 million. The bill was amended to give businesses more time — four years instead of two — to make the changes. "Business got a compromise it can live with, and labor got something it can point to as landmark legislation," says Dale Carlson, vice president of the Pacific Stock Exchange, a big user of VDTs. "It's a win-win situation." Not everyone agrees. Several corporations have hired a law firm to investigate the possibility of overturning the measure. New York's Suffolk County passed a similar law in 1988, but it was rejected by a state court; its decision is being appealed.