Whiteboard projector safety fears
Interactive whiteboards have been heralded as devices that will enhance
education and be a major plank in the government's drive for new technology in
But the BBC has learnt that while millions of pounds have been spent on them,
very little attention has been paid to a potential threat to the eyesight of
teachers and children.
It is only through the persistence of a whistleblower from the whiteboard
industry itself that the authorities have begun to address the fundamental gaps
in safety that still exist.
Sam Livermore, owner of Croydon-based company Selectasize, has been
struggling to persuade England's education department to put printed warnings
alongside all screens because of the light projected onto them.
Documents from the Health and Safety Executive, obtained by the BBC under the
Freedom of Information Act, say users "should make sure that direct beam viewing
of the optical output from this equipment is both controlled and restricted to
no more than a few tens of seconds at a time".
They say the "eye aversion response" - the dazzle effect - will be so strong
that most people would not be able to view the beam for that long.
But it is possible a viewer's peripheral retina could be overexposed even
when they are not actually staring directly into the beam.
"In such instances, no protective aversion response is evoked in viewers and
so they won't know that they could be overexposing their eyes."
Companies supplying the equipment are told to ensure that people are
encouraged to keep their backs to the projector beam, and not to stare at it.
Those entering it, while facing the audience, should do so "for no more than a
A straw poll of teaching representatives in Wiltshire shows only a small
number have been told how to use whiteboards safely.
The National Union of Teacher rep for the county, Mike Harrison, who carried
out the poll, said: "It's very difficult to avoid the beam because if you are
standing in front and demonstrating a point to the class you immediately want to
turn round to know that they are aware of what you are saying, rather than
ducking out of the beam. You want to stay there and face the class."
One of the documents obtained backs up his small poll.
A letter from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency
(Becta) admits that only a third of whiteboards have health and safety notices
on them and says that its "current health and safety information does not
An e-mail from a whiteboard supplier to the HSE flags up concerns that the
government is "thinking of bringing in legislation related to the brightness of
projectors which, if true, will have a large impact on our business".
A letter from the HSE in May 2006 says it is "concerned that users of such
equipment can be at risk from UV radiation emitted by the projector if they look
at the projector beam for too long or if the filters are faulty or incorrect".
Minutes of a meeting in June last year of the Department for Education and
Skills say "schools may be using projectors at higher than agreed 1500 Lumens
due to too much ambient light. Schools are buying projectors which could
potentially be damaging to eyesight."
Sam Livermore of Selectasize says he has been lobbying Becta since 2001 to
"My concerns went on to 2004 when Becta visited. They decided it was best
practice to put the signs next to the board, but nothing has been done since
"My concern is there are 250,000 whiteboards in the UK used on a daily basis
in our schools and five million students.
"Of those five million, four million are totally unaware of the health
warnings, and out of those four million two million are children.
"Looking at that blue light is quite dangerous and it should not be more than
He says that if something is not done, in the long term people's sight could
A number of teachers believe they have been affected. One who wants to remain
anonymous said: "I felt dazzled when looking at the board from a certain
position in the classroom.
"I had a child complaining that dazzle from the board was hurting their eyes.
"The projector was found to be too bright - which means that for months this
had been having an effect on us."
One of the country's leading experts from City University's department of
optometry and visual sciences, Dr Christopher Hull, said: "If you have a light
source with UV there is always the possibility of damage.
"We simply don't know though for sure, because very little research has been
"What little evidence we have indicates misuse of whiteboards is likely to
cause only non-permanent changes.
"But, in the meantime, there is no reason not to put safety notices up."