Businesses across the world increasingly rely on and use technology as a normal part of many jobs. Indeed, it is now second nature for lots of employees to use computers as part of their daily work.
In the 1980s, reports started to emerge to highlight that poorly designed work stations, awkward working practices, repetitive tasks and personal physical health limitations could all lead to an increased risk of ill health and increased sickness absence. These reports mainly focused on upper limb disorders (ULDs) such as back ache, fatigue, stress, temporary eye strain and headaches.
In response to this growing evidence and the increasing use of display screen equipment in the workplace, the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations were introduced in 1993 to help manage these potential risks in the workplace.
Key requirements of the DSE regulations
The DSE regulations basically require employers to:
- Assess workstations and their users within their business to assess and reduce any potential risks
- Ensure that workstations meet specified minimum requirements and ensure adequate controls are in place to manage any identified risks
- To proactively plan work activities so that they include breaks or changes in activity
- Provide eye and eyesight tests as identified as needed or on request, and any special spectacles if needed
- Provide information and training on the safe use of DSE
- Monitor and review the situation on change whether in regard to the person, workstation, work or workplace
So what do the DSE regulations consider a workstation?
A “workstation” is basically considered as any permanent or temporary combination of one or more of a screen, keyboard, mouse, desk or workstation, a chair and the immediate working environment.
Who is considered a user?
This has proved slightly more difficult to call, but generally any person who uses a display screen, or a computer numerical control display – say, on a machine or equipment or within a workstation – as a significant part of their normal work will come under these DSE regulations.
A significant part means they use a DSE on a daily basis or for continuous periods of an hour or more. Employees who use DSE infrequently, or for short periods of time,S are unlikely to need to come under these regulations.
However, if there is any DSE use as part of a job then you should review each individual to identify any potential risks – and if identified put in control measures. As an employer, you have a basic duty to assess the risks associated with the use of any DSE equipment within your business as well as any special needs of individual staff. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a fuller guide to help which you can access here.
So what do you need to do?
As a minimum, undertake an assessment for each person who has any element of DSE use in their work. Use a DSE self-assessment to engage individuals to take ownership of their own health and safety. This way the individual user takes an active part in deciding if their work falls under the DSE Regulations.
If it does, then help an employee assess their workstation with the support of competent professional, information and possibly training. Appoint a competent person who can assess the information provided within the DSE self-assessment and provide or arrange the necessary adjustments as and when needed.
If you have fewer than five employees, you are not obliged to keep a record of this. But many small businesses would find it impossible to effectively manage this area without an element of structure and procedure.
You can use this assessment to decide what needs to be done and check that any required actions identified are taken. And if you ever need to defend a potential claim or allegation made against your business, you will be able to provide a continuous record and evidence of the actions you had taken in your defence.
What do you need to consider in an assessment?
Here are some basic points to take into consideration in terms of using a DSE at a workstation:
- Forearms should be approximately horizontal and eyes should be the same height as the top of the screen
- It is important to have enough work space to accommodate all the documents and equipment needed. A document holder may help avoid awkward neck and eye movements
- Arrange workstations to avoid glare, or bright reflections. This is often easiest if the screen is not directly facing windows or bright lights
- Sufficient space under the desk to move legs and ensure feet can rest firmly on the floor if sitting is also key
- The keyboard should be placed so users can rest hands and wrists when not keying and that when typing wrists can be kept straight and the forearm supported
- The mouse should be within easy reach and used with a straight wrist and again a light touch
- Workers should be sitting upright and close to the desk to prevent working with the mouse arm stretched
- On the screen, the characters should be sharp, large and easy enough to read and in focus with no screen flicker – if not, the DSE may need servicing or adjustment
- The brightness and contrast controls on the screen should suit lighting conditions in the room
- Employees should take breaks and regularly change activities – short frequent breaks or change of activities are much better than longer infrequent ones
- Workers should also stretch and change position frequently; look into the distance from time to time, and blink often
Under the DSE Regulations, what eye tests and glasses do I need to provide as an employer?
There is often misunderstanding in discussions between employers and employees about what is covered under these regulations. There is no evidence to suggest that DSE work will cause permanent damage to the eyes or eyesight.
Eye tests are required to be provided to ensure users can comfortably see the screen and work effectively without visual fatigue – they are a preventative and precautionary measure. However, if a problem is identified, or a user or a potential user requests an eye test, you are required to provide one.
And if the eye test states that the user needs glasses specifically for DSE work, you must pay for a basic pair of frames and lenses. This does not mean the latest designer pair of frames, but if your employee would rather have a designer pair they could pay the difference.
Users are also entitled to further tests if DSE work is considered by a professional assessment to cause them visual fatigue. These will be at the intervals recommended by the professional after the first test.
The arrangements you make to provide eye and eyesight tests can vary. Many employers let users arrange tests for themselves and reimburse them using their expenses procedure. Other employers choose to make an arrangement with one local optician or chain of opticians to keep a control of costs.
The choice is yours, as long as it does not make it difficult for the individual to access the test or go against medical advice.
Making sure you comply with DSE regulations is just one way of maximising employee wellbeing. For more suggestions check out this guide.
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