In an age where digital technologies are the way forward, we require access to computers in the form of desktops, laptops and tablets more and more. Health and social care needs to provide lots of information from care plans, CPA reviews, assessment reports, to the audit trails of emails. Whilst this technology has its merits through programs such as realtime™ reporting systems, have we given thought of what staff are exposed to in the application of such technologies, the environment in which they work and how that affects their eyesight and their bodies? With an ever-increasing demand, managers need to protect their staff from unnecessary harm by effective measures. Having a DSE (Display Screen Equipment) workstation assessment assesses the risks that workers might be exposed to.
How do I protect my employees?
Like with all work applications they need to be assessed for their suitability. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (amended 2002) assists employers in ensuring how to reduce health risks associated with screen-based work, including musculoskeletal disorders, visual fatigue and mental stress. Consideration is given to contributory factors affecting employee’s health and how to mitigate or reduce to as “far as is reasonably practicable” their associated risks.
What do I do first?
The first thing is to assess the risk to your employees by individual risk assessments as cited in Regulation 2. The HSE has a template at the end of its guidance document L26 which you can download as a free copy. This assessment can be completed by an employee after some basic training (Regulation 6) and then followed through where specialist help is needed. Staff must also be provided with some basic information (Regulation 7). Any member of staff who uses a display screen for more than 1 hour continually per day as part of their duties needs to be assessed regardless of how many people you employ (the 5 or more employees rule does not apply to DSE assessments!)
What is covered by a workstation assessment?
As well as the display screen we consider the keyboard, mouse, chair, workstation, lighting, ventilation and noise.
The assessment considers posture and ergonomics to reduce stress on our bodies by poor positioning. A workstation needs to be clutter free so you can move your legs. The seat usually a 5-leg swivel with back support and height adjustment, are ergonomically designed to support the natural curve of the spine.
If you use a laptop I would suggest having a riser and a separate keyboard thus ensuring that you are not too close to the screen. You can get gel pad supports for keyboards and mouse mat gel pad supports to protect wrists and aid posture.
Workstations should not be an extension of your filing cabinet and need to be at a suitable height. Whilst most office environments provide lighting it is important to ensure there is not glare on the screen and sunlight can be controlled by blinds. Where lighting is poor i.e. below 200 lumens, then additional lighting may be required.
The screen should be adjustable i.e.: tilt and the print readable without strain. You can adjust the brightness of your screen.
Eye strain can lead to headaches, muscle strains and stress related illnesses. If you find this to be an issue, I would suggest having your eyes tested – an eye test should be paid for by your employer and some offer vouchers for reduced cost of glasses if they are for display screen work only. Regulation 5
Office environments with computer equipment can draw moisture from the air thus having adequate ventilation as well as ensuring equipment filters are not blocked with dust, can improve the environment and ensure you are more productive. If your role requires significant periods of time seated and working from a computer i.e.: a call centre, administrator etc. consider having a break every 1 hour for 5 to 10 mins and where possible job rotate. For more information click here
I have staff who need additional support
DSE assessments need to consider all staff, including those who may need special adjustments. In a number of cases, you will need to refer to an occupational health advisor where you have mobility considerations. Female staff who are pregnant will have a risk assessment in place to protect them and the baby they carry, however it may be that foot risers, more frequent breaks and easy access to welfare facilities and fresh air need to be given consideration. Remember that the law requires employers to make reasonable adjustments.
What about the office environment?
Offices need to be light and airy, décor of neutral colour, being aware that some colours can affect mood. Those with epilepsy will need to be protected from flashing images and everyone from glare. Open plan offices need access for wheelchairs and workstations clutter-free both on top and underneath.
Noise can be a factor which affects people’s mental wellbeing, thus ear inserts on a cord and soundproofing boards between other colleague’s workstations can assist.
How to I prevent staff getting aches and pains?
Whilst you cannot stop staff getting aches and pains you can reduce this by encouraging exercise and stretches. Walking in your lunch break can also assist this too.
What does the law say?
The key piece of legislation is The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 amended 2002. Regulation 4 concerns the daily activities of DSE users and cites the following:
‘Every employer shall so plan the activities of users at work in his undertaking that their daily work on display screen equipment is periodically interrupted by such breaks or changes of activity as reduce their workload at that equipment.’
Working with Display Screen Equipment (HSE publication) INDG36
Should VDU users be given breaks (HSE website)
Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist (HSE website)
Work with display screen equipment (HSE publication) L26