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Health and Safety and Computers

Employers should manage the risks to their employees of working at computers for long periods of time.

One concern for computer-based workers should be posture. Sitting in a bad posture for a whole working day, or even the majority of one, can unsurprisingly cause a lot of health problems, especially with the back and neck.

The other major concern is that spending a long time in front of an electronic screen can be damaging to the eyes.

There is a piece of legislation entitled the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 which sets out how employers should handle the risk of working with computer equipment. These regulations place obligations on employers whose employees use display screen equipment (i.e. computers and laptops) daily for continuous periods of an hour or more.

The following information will help to ensure that your company is compliant with the legislation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that you must:

  • analyse workstations to assess and reduce risk
  • make sure controls are in place
  • provide information and training
  • provide eye and eyesight tests on request, and special spectacles if needed
  • review the assessment when the user or DSE changes.

DSE Workstation Assessments

You should carry out a DSE assessment for each member of staff in order to identify the DSE-related risks that each individual faces. From this you should be able to ascertain what needs to be done and ensure that the necessary action is taken.

If you have more than five employees then you are legally obliged to write your findings down.

In general there are number of things that you can do in order to reduce the risk to your employees involved with DSE use. When carrying out your assessment you can use these as pointers as to whether your employee is at any risk.

Some of the recommendations made by the HSE for the reduction of risk to your employees resulting from the use of DSE are:

General

  • The user’s eyes should be level with the top of the screen, and the forearms approximately horizontal.
  • Glare or bright reflections from the screen should be avoided. This can be accomplished by making sure that it is not facing windows or bright lights.
  • Curtains or blinds should be used to block out intrusive light.
  • There should be space under the desk for employees to move their legs.

Typing

  • Space should be left in front of the keyboard for the hands and wrists to rest when not typing.
  • Employees should be able to keep their wrists straight when typing.
  • Good typing technique should be encouraged, i.e. keeping a soft touch on the keys and not overstretching the fingers.

Using a mouse

  • The mouse should be positioned within easy reach of the user.
  • The user should be sat upright and close to the desk so that the mouse-using arm is not stretched.
  • The forearm should be supported on the desk and the mouse shouldn’t be gripped too tightly.
  • Fingers should rest lightly on the mouse buttons, which shouldn’t be pressed too hard.

The monitor

  • Characters on the screen should be sharp and in focus, and should not flicker or move. The monitor may need to be adjusted or repaired if this is not the case.
  • The brightness and contrast should be adjusted to suit the surroundings.
  • The surface of the screen should be clean.
  • Text should be large enough to read in a normal comfortable working position, and colour schemes which are hard on the eyes should be avoided.

Breaking up DSE time

Breaking up your employees’ time at their computer can help stave off health problems. Giving them structured or organised rest breaks can help to achieve this. Other things you can recommend your employees to do are:

  • Stretch and change position
  • Look into the distance from time to time and blink often

The HSE advises that action should be taken before employees get tired rather than after, and that short and frequent breaks are preferable to long and infrequent ones.

Eye test requests

If an employee that uses DSE or will potential use DSE requests an eye test, you are required to grant it. If the result of the test is that the employee needs glasses specifically for DSE work then you must pay for a basic pair a frames and lenses.

You have freedom of choice with regard to how you provide eye tests – some employers allow their employees to choose where they have their test done and to foot the bill, while some choose to send all employee to a specific optician.

Reviewing DSE assessments

You should review your DSE assessments when:

  • Major changes are made to equipment, furniture, work environment or software
  • Employees change workstations
  • The tasks performed by employees with DSE change considerably
  • Controls in place may be causing other problems.