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COMPAQ, MICROSOFT TO INCLUDE WARNINGS

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Compaq Computer Corp. said it will put warning labels on computer keyboards this fall, directing people to read a safety guide with tips to avoid hand and wrist injuries.

Microsoft Corp. also will place warning labels on a specially designed keyboard it will begin selling in a few weeks.The companies would become the first to clearly state there is a chance for injury from keyboard misuse or too much typing. There was no immediate sign that others would join them.

But the labeling raises the profile of a health issue confronting the computer industry. Dozens of manufacturers, including Compaq, are defending lawsuits brought by people who have suffered wrist or arm injuries.

The central issue in many suits is whether people were adequately warned about the potential for harm. Injuries can range from simple soreness to a tissue swelling that harms nerves in the wrist, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

A partner at a New York law firm that represents 2,000 different plaintiffs in keyboard injury cases praised Compaq and Microsoft but said the size and placement of the labels would make a difference.

"The fact some of these companies may be waking up to the interest in warning people is a very positive development," said Robert Komitor, partner at Levi, Phillips and Konigsberg. "Time will tell whether these warnings are adequate or whether they're to avert litigation."

Compaq's sticker will be on top of a keyboard with the message: "Warning! To reduce risk of serious injury to hands, wrists or other joints, read Safety & Comfort guide."

The company, the leading seller of personal computers in the first half of this year, has included a booklet of safety tips with each computer since 1991. It will have a new version of that booklet ready when the warning labels go out in the fourth quarter.

"This makes it visible to the user that there's a document there that they ought to see or that they're missing and can request," said John Rose, senior vice president of Compaq's desktop division.

He said the company was not reacting to litigation and declined to discuss what the legal ramifications may be.

Compaq earlier this year won a lawsuit brought by Patsy Woodcock, a Houston secretary who claimed typing injuries left her unable to work. During the trial, Compaq argued that information available in 1988, when Woodcock began working on the keyboard, did not warrant such a warning.

Compaq said there was still no scientific link between keyboard design and injuries. But it cited growing evidence, chiefly in news accounts, that typing with hands in awkward positions or for a long time can be harmful. So, the company said, it wanted to draw more attention to the safety guide.