The use of digital technology in the workplace has increased in recent years. As a result, good computer health and safety practices are increasingly important to ensure employers meet their responsibilities.
Ensuring the safety of employees during prolonged computer use and screen exposure is an obligation for all employers.
This guide offers an easy to understand overview of workstation and visual display unit (VDU) regulations in the UK. We’ll also take a look a how to set up a computer workstation to minimise the risk of health complications, and maximise employee health and wellbeing.
Workstation Safety Law – DSE Regulations
Employer’s duty of care includes making sure their employees practise good habits while at the workstation. The DSE regulations set out all that is required to understand and follow workstation safety laws.
Employers should ensure they are doing all they can to reduce or eliminate risks to health caused by computers. They should also ensure that employees understand how to help themselves. There should be a procedure in place that staff can follow if they notice a problem.
Employers must provide the following:-
DSE Workstation Risk Assessment
There must be a DSE workstation risk assessment in place. This is the responsibility of the employer and applies to all employees who work at a computer for more than 1 hour per day.
This helps to ensure staff are protected from the ill effects of working on a screen as part of their job role. Display screen equipment (DSE) can cause health problems when the risks are not identified and removed or reduced.
This is where the risk assessment comes into place. This should factor in all the risks associated with DSE and how these can be effectively managed.
A workstation risk assessment should include:
- The workstation was set up as a whole, including the environment, equipment and furniture.
- The role the employee has in the workplace.
- Whether staff have any particular needs to do their job such as a disability.
- Any new workstations that are set up after the original assessment was written.
- New employees (users) should be added to the written assessment.
- Any changes that are made to the current layout of workstations.
- Information on any struggles or complaints users have using the equipment in its present state.
Read More: HSE Workstation assessments.
Employee Eye Tests
Employers also must ensure their staff undertake regular eye tests as part of their computer health and safety procedures. Too much screen time can harm the eyes and causes eye strain.
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure these are booked and paid for. Staff should not be expected to pay for their own eye tests. In the event glasses are prescribed where specialist lenses are required for the work being done, employers should also pay for these.
The opticians chosen for employee eye tests and the glasses and lenses selected will be down to the employer’s discretion.
There should be adequate DSE Training provided for anyone who works at a computer as part of their job. This training teaches employees the importance of maintaining good health during their working day.
Such training should cover topics such as knowing the correct posture for sitting at the workstation, taking regular breaks and wearing appropriate eyewear if necessary.
Employees should have access to the risk assessment and know how to raise concerns regarding computer health.
Safe Computer Workstation Set Up
The most effective way to ensure staff are kept safe at their workstations is to ensure the area around them is appropriate. This includes the furniture, equipment and lighting.
Employers must take measures to keep workstations as safe as possible to minimise potential risks. This involves doing a risk assessment to include all of the following factors:
Mouse & Keyboard
Any equipment that is used frequently during the working day should be readily accessible at all times. Employees should not need to strain to reach items such as the keyboard and mouse.
Your chair should be close enough to the keyboard at all times to minimise the risk of injuries such as repetitive strain injury.
Employees should also ensure they are taking the appropriate breaks. This not only helps with eye strain but also encourages the body to adopt a new position.
The chairs employees sit on should provide comfort and encourage good posture. This is where employees will be spending much of their working day and many issues can occur from an uncomfortable seat.
Bad posture can affect the neck, shoulders and back. An office chair should offer good posture support as well as be comfortable. It should also be at the correct height for the employee and be the correct distance from the desk.
A footstool can make the environment more comfortable as well. Employees who have concerns regarding their chair should report this to their manager.
See Also: Kneeling chairs.
The display screen of your computer must offer the best visual experience possible. This screen will be used for much of the working day so users should ensure the settings are correct.
The correct brightness should be used and the screen should be at a suitable height for the head. There should be no straining to see or constantly needing to look down.
The screen should also not be too small as this can damage eyesight. You can enlarge the display for eye comfort and use a larger font if necessary.
Employers should always ensure the software being used is both practical and valuable. It should work at a good speed and provide clear instructions for its users.
Having software that is user friendly is essential in offices. All employees should be supported when new software is introduced and training offered if required.
Things such as error or help messages should be clear enough to read without straining.
Risks to Health & Safety During Computer Use
Poor computer health can result in multiple health conditions which can be a major blow for employees. Different parts of the body can be affected by improper use of the workstation.
One of the most reported ailments associated with computer work is eyestrain. This can be a problematic condition that doesn’t just affect the eyes.
Symptoms of eyestrain can include feeling sick, getting headaches and a sore back and neck. This is why eye tests are so important in the workplace.
A simple eye test can determine if you need glasses and which lenses will suit your needs best.
Another common ailment linked to computer work is repetitive strain injury. RSI is often linked to straining certain muscles when using a computer.
It mostly affects fingers, wrists and hands when it comes to office work. This comes down to the incorrect posture being used and also having to stretch to reach the keyboard comfortably. By having the equipment in the right place, you are less at risk of RSI.
Muscle and Joint Issues
Being sat on a chair working on the computer can also have an impact on our muscles and joints. It is important to ensure correct posture is always adopted to avoid issues.
Repetitive movements such as typing or using the mouse can cause muscles and joints to become stiff and painful. Having everything in the correct position can help keep muscles and joints loose and flexible.
Also, sitting with a bad posture and straining will just add to the aches and pains associated with computer work.
Stress & Fatigue
Stress and fatigue should also be factored in as a risk of sitting in front of a screen for long periods. Many jobs can be stressful and having to navigate software can make it even more so.
Regular breaks should be taken to prevent employees from becoming fatigued. Employers should follow the Working Time Regulations when it comes to staff breaks and suitable shifts.
Employees should practise moving around regularly so that their bodies do not stiffen up. Looking away from the screen regularly can drastically improve symptoms of eye strain too.
Computer Health & Safety – Employee Responsibilities
Below is a list of some of the simple things that can make working at a desk much more comfortable:
- Ensure the chair is at the correct height for the computer equipment.
- Use comfortable yet firm chairs that encourage good posture.
- When working on the screen, adopt the 20 20 20 rule. Every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away.
- If any injuries or ailments occur as a result of the working day they should be reported to your boss.
- Make sure you are receiving regular eye checks.
- Move around during your breaks to keep muscles and joints loose.
- Make sure all the equipment is easily accessible with no straining to reach.
- Maximise the settings of your screen so that they suit you – things such as font size and brightness will help.
- Avoid any glare on the screen by positioning the workstation away from bright lights.
Computer Health & Safety for Home Workers
Computer health and safety is very relevant to home workers as well. More and more workers are remote now which means using computers and laptops to work from home.
The DSE regulations cover home workers too. Their work area must promote a good posture with no slouching. Remote workers may not need all the equipment you would find in the office but what they do use should be suitable and practical.
Ideally, working from a table with an appropriate height of the chair would be sufficient. Curled up on the sofa with the laptop may not do backs and necks any favours.
Employers should ensure their remote workers can work comfortably and safely. Remote workers should log any injuries from working on a computer straight to their employer.
Laptops are covered by DSE regulations in the same way computers, tablets and smartphones are. Appropriate software should be running on laptops used for work and the screen should be a good size.
DSE training is a legal requirement for all workers who use a computer or other screen for their work. Employers must ensure their staff understand the risks involved and know how to take precautionary measures.