Working With VDUs and Computers – UK Health & Safety Laws

Health and safety regulations which related specifically to the use of visual display units (VDUs) and computers in the workplace came into effect in January 1993 to implement an EU directive. The regulations apply to staff who are working with VDUs as part of their day to day job.

A worker sitting at a computer workstation looking at a VDU screen

What Does VDU Stand For?

Definition: VDU Stands For Visual Display Unit. The abbreviation describes, any display screen or monitor, usually forming part of a computer, that displays text, numbers and graphics.

VDU Health & Safety – Employers Obligations

Employers must:

  • Analyse VDU work stations and assess and reduce risks. This includes the equipment, furniture, the work environment, the job being done and any special needs required by staff.
  • Provide adjustable chairs and suitable lighting.
  • Plan work so there are breaks or changes of activity away from the computer. The breaks are not required to be a specific length of time but the general advice is to provide more frequent, shorter ones as opposed to less, longer ones. Ideally, the operator should be allowed a certain amount of discretion as to when to take breaks away from the screen
  • On request, provide eye tests or spectacles if special VDU glasses are required. Employees can ask their employer to pay for eye tests and there is also a requirement to test at regular intervals
  • Provide health, safety and training information specific to the safe use of working with VDUs and computers

How Can I Stay Healthy & Safe at my VDU Workstation?

Workstation Posture

  • Adjust your chair and VDU to find the most comfortable position in which to work. As a rough guide, your forearms should be approximately horizontal and your eyes level with the top of the VDU.
  • Make sure you have enough desk space for documents and other equipment.
  • Try different arrangements of keyboard, screen, documents and mouse to find what suits you best.
  • Arrange your desk and VDU to avoid glare or bright reflections on screen. This will be easier if neither you nor the screen is directly facing windows or bright sunlight. Adjust curtains and blinds to prevent unwanted light and glare.
  • Make sure there is sufficient space under your desk to move your legs freely and remove any obstacles that might prevent this.
  • Avoid excess pressure from the edge of your seat on the backs of your knees and legs. For smaller people, a footrest might be helpful.

Keyboard Position

  • Adjust your keyboard so that you have a comfortable typing posture. A space in front of the keyboard often helps for resting the hands and wrists in between typing.
  • Try to keep wrists straight when typing. Type softly and don’t overstretch your fingers.

Using a Mouse Safely

  • Keep the mouse within easy reach so that it can be used with a straight wrist. Sit upright and close to the desk and move the keyboard out of the way if it is not being used.
  • Support your forearm on the desk and don’t grip the mouse too tightly.
  • Rest your fingers on the buttons and press them gently.

Avoiding VDU Eye Strain

  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of the screen to suit the lighting conditions in the room.
  • Make sure the screen surface is clean.
  • In setting up software, choose text that is a suitable size for you to read and colours that are easy on the eye.
  • Individual characters on the screen should be sharply focused and should not flicker or move. If they do, your VDU may need servicing or adjusting.

VDU Workstation Posture and Breaks

  • Do not sit in the same position for long periods and move around so that your posture is not rigid. However, avoid repeated stretching for things you need. Move the items you need closer to you.
  • And remember to take breaks – short, frequent ones are best. You may not be entitled to lots of rest and relaxation breaks but your employer has to make adequate ‘breaks’ away from the screen available to you, e.g. photocopying or filing duties might be applicable. The general recommendation is a 5 to 10 minute break away from the screen for every hour you are sat in front of it.

Health Problems Arising From Bad Working Practice at VDU Equipment

Incorrect use of VDUs can place people’s health at risk in a variety of ways. It can cause:

  • Eyesight problems and headaches caused by screen glare, straining to look at VDU screens for long periods and by monitors positioned too close or too far away.
  • Increased levels of stress which can usually be attributed to an increased pace of work or being made to work in front of a VDU without a break for a longer period of unbroken time than is recommended.
  • Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) which refers to aches, pains and disorders that can occur in the hands and arms which, although usually only temporary in nature, can evolve into an ongoing condition and can even be disabling.

Take this advice on health and safety implications of using a VDU or computer at work to reduce the health problems that can arise from incorrect use.

12 thoughts on “Working With VDUs and Computers – UK Health & Safety Laws

  1. Cazcat says:

    Is there a time limit on your employer providing a new computer screen (as in newer, bigger, clearer font) for myself who has eye problems. (retinal detachment, retinal tear,and haemorrhage caused by severe short sight) my existing screen is old and not as clear as the newer screens at our other offices (I’m a travel agent). 3 months after my immediate boss requested one, I’m still waiting. Is there a time limit on something like this due to medical conditions.

  2. brogerscooking says:

    I work in front of a screen on a 12 hour day. I am given two fifteen minute breaks add an hour lunch. Staff on an 8 hr day get exactly the same. Part timers on a 4 hour shift get 15 minute break. I don’t think this is fair but put up with it. What is the law around this? Thanks

  3. ruby says:

    I work 4,45 minutes a day. Our manager is now trying to stop our coffee break.we are constantly on computers for that time.

  4. Starbuck says:

    My work station is located right next to a large car showroom window and when the sun tracks around it reflects on my screen making it pretty much impossible to read it. In addition to that the sun is extremely hot on my back and the back of my head. There are no blinds in place or tinting on the glass so it is like being in a greenhouse! There are three of us on the showroom floor in the same situation but I seem to be the only one who wishes to voice some concern. Prevoius attempts have been made to raise the issue including recommedations of blinds or tinting to be put in place but this has fallen on deaf ears! Where do I stand in terms of getting this ressolved and would i put my job at risk if i refused to work at this station?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Starbuck – Make a formal request (in writing) for your employer to put some measures in place to alleviate this problem. Describe the computer glare and the heat from the window etc. Suggest solutions, such as a screen for your computer and blinds at the window. Is there also a possibility of having your workstation moved? If you do not get a satisfactory response, contact the Health and Safety Executive.

  5. q56 says:

    If I am employed to work 4 days mon-thurs if a member of staff goes sick or is on holiday do I have to cover ? this happens all the time and no one ever asks me just takes it for granted that I will do it ! how do I stand legally

    • Safe Workers says:

      @q56 – If the cover is expected on your normal working days then there is no reason why you shouldn’t. If your contract states that you work Mon to Thurs and you are being asked to work a Friday (or a Saturday, Sunday), then your employer is in breach of your contract. See this article for more information.

  6. tinkabel says:

    Hi I am interested if there is any advice protecting from eye damage due to long term data input for the last 8yrs I have been doing this from 8.30am – 4.30 pm five days a week

    • Safe Workers says:

      @tinkabel – The HSE recommends horizon scanning as good way to alleviate any muscle weakness caused by gazing at a screen/object for long periods of time. From time stop – blink your eyes – focus on a distant object. “The closer the eye has to focus on objects, the greater the load on the eye muscles. When the eye focuses on objects in the distance, the eye muscles relax. Therefore helping to relieve and reduce eye fatigue.”

  7. RthGCK says:

    I have been working for my employer for about 4 months now. All I have is a laptop on my desk and a phone. I was here around 3 months when the tracker in my mouse thankfully went as my wrists were starting to get really painful. I am now pregnant with twins and was told they’d orde rme a stand and keyboard which still hasn’t arrived from over 3 weeks ago! Today I feel really stressed because the babies are nearly 6 months and pushing in my ribs but i’m slumped over my shoulders trying to view the screen which is more level with my lap than my eyes 🙁 # Feeling really fed up #

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