An Update on the Use and Assessment of Display Screen Workstations
In many workplaces DSE use is still traditional desk-bound computers linked to screens, keyboards and other peripherals such as printers. The methodology for dealing with possible risks is well established and the principles involved still represent a good starting point even though the answers, for newer technology, may require some lateral thinking.
The first consideration is “what is a user?” The rule of thumb is that this is a person who uses DSE for at least an hour, continuously, every working day. Anyone falling below this threshold, such as a worker simply keeping an eye on their e-mail inbox, need not be given formal consideration though, as a matter of good practice, they may be offered a similar standard of workstation as that provided for users.
The Risks and DSE Risk Assessment
The type of risks being guarded against are fatigue, eye strain, backache or upper limb problems and issues relating to the environment such as high temperature in conjunction with a lack of ventilation.
The DSE Regulations require that a risk assessment is conducted covering the workstation and tasks the user undertakes. Assessment checklists are commonplace, available from a number of sources including the HSE website. Some level of consultation is appropriate to offer the user the chance to discuss matters which do lend themselves to checklists, such as medical issues or problems which only occur intermittently. The assessment can be completed on a DIY basis by the user prior to consultation but it should be ensured that users are aware of what the risk issues are, how their workstation should be set up correctly and how to adjust it. The consultation should be undertaken by a co-ordinator who is sufficiently competent that they can recognise faults in workstation set up or identify problems and offer advice on correcting these.
If an employee is “hot desking” a new assessment need not be carried out each time; the employee should be sufficiently trained to recognise an acceptable workstation and make personal adjustments necessary for their comfort. DSE assessments should be reviewed in the event of significant change such as major alteration to the layout of an office and it may be considered good practice to review these periodically to ensure all remains well. There is no fixed interval prescribed by Law but 3-yearly may be considered a sensible interval.
Following the assessment “reasonable” alterations should be made to improve any shortcomings highlighted by this process. This may be difficult to achieve; an environment one worker considers excessively cool may be considered by others as too warm. In such circumstances the only reasonable action seems to be to set the thermostat at an “average” temperature, perhaps around 23°C, and recommend the wearing of a light jersey or lighter clothing respectively, possibly augmented by suggesting local heating (a fan blower) or taking occasional breaks in a cooler area. However, if the need for an accessory such as a document holder, a lamp or footrest is highlighted, the provision of these will clearly improve the users work situation.
Much has been discussed in the media about the dangers of too much sitting at work, leading to many employers considering the provision of sit/stand workstations, ‘walking desks’, kneeling chairs and even ‘Swiss balls’. While there is some evidence to support improvements in health for some of these types of seating arrangements, they are mostly designed for short-term use only and could cause problems over the long term.
It is important that DSE workstations at least meet the basic requirements of the DSE Regulations[i]. Good quality ergonomic workstations allow for a range of movement, adjustment for different body types, chairs are adjustable for height, tilt and may include adjustable lumbar support. Taller employees will need more back support, requiring a higher-back chair. Note that some chairs are designed only for short term ‘hot desk’ use so it is important to provide chairs that are designed for 8+ hour use if your DSE users work a full day.
Eye Tests and Breaks
There is no evidence that DSE use results in harm to the eyes but, in order to ensure users can comfortably see and work, they are entitled to an eyesight test if they request one and further tests at regular intervals. If the test shows that glasses are needed specifically for DSE work the employer must pay for basic lenses and frames. If the user’s normal glasses are adequate for such work the employer need not pay for them. It is reasonable to require proof of the need for glasses for DSE from the optician prior to authorising purchase. The self-employed are not entitled to these tests or to glasses.
One of the main safeguards for workers in the 5 minute working break. This allows the users to leave their workstation, change their posture and vary the focal distance their eyes are set to. Many jobs naturally carry such breaks where users must make phone calls, deliver mail, or similar. If these natural breaks are not present employers should attempt to plan breaks into the user’s routine.
HSE advice is that your employer is not obliged to provide you with a workstation if you work at home though they should provide guidance on the safe use of equipment. However, if workstation equipment is provided, it must comply with the Regulations (eg. stability of chair) which would imply a documented risk assessment. In practical terms a reasonable interpretation of this decision may be that a worker visiting a number of sites and returning home to conduct some DSE work may not need more than the use of a table and chair they already have in their house. However, if a company has locally based operatives who carry out substantial DSE work it seems entirely reasonable that they provide a suitable workstation. For high level users a docking station with separate screen, keyboard and mouse may be appropriate.
Do you BYOD?
The DSE Regulations apply to other forms of technology including tablets and other hand-held devices. The employer is required to provide information and guidance on the safe use of these when used as work equipment for substantial periods. The phrase “bring your own device” or BYOD has been coined to cover the use of hand held device for work previously carried out on computers. The use of these can result in fatigue or postural problems and consideration must be given to training and procedures designed to minimise risk of harm in line with the DSE Regulations.
[i] Health and Safety Executive publication L26 Work with display screen equipment, Appendix 1 – Guidance on workstation minimum requirements