Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and Mobile Set Ups
The History of Display Screen Equipment
When computer use increased in the 1980’s people were sure it would be the end of the traditional workplace. Workers of the future were portrayed as sitting in front of hordes of computers in an impersonal room and mindlessly tapping on the keys, inputting data. Compensation claims from data inputters with RSI (repetitive strain injury) in the banking industry also fueled the fire.
Specific regulation in the form of the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations deal with the issue of computers, workstations and, more recently, mobile technology.
I have heard people complain of all sorts of pains and ailments they think are due to using display screen equipment, such as headaches, neck pain, skin rashes, poor eyesight; but many of these problems would go if everyone applied some simple rules, as set out below.
Learn How to Set Up Your Workstation
The biggest way of preventing health issues is educating users on how they set up their own computer workstation. Occupational health (OH) and safety practitioners can help too by promoting training in use of IT equipment and be part of the group induction programme so that myths and poor practice get nipped in the bud early on. If you focus on induction training and audit of workstation set up – you may not need any of the following steps – but failing that, follow the steps below.
Companies vary in how they do display screen assessments. There are various ways. But, in my mind, nothing beats a good old-fashioned assessment done by an ‘expert’, that is, those properly trained in how to do the assessment.
Here goes then:
For the Assessment:
- Display screen equipment blank assessment form
- Tape measure
- Picture of how to sit at a workstation to show to the user (see image below)
- Exercise sheets
- Catalogue of other types of equipment available
- Eyesight voucher
Stage One: The display screen equipment user should have completed a first stage assessment which takes into account all the areas of the risk assessment eg screen, chair, environment, software etc. The line manager, health and safety officer or supervisor assesses the setup. The majority of problems are corrected at this stage. Here is a list of the most frequent issues causing a health problem
My Top 10 Errors when Working with DSE
- Chair set up incorrectly and no idea how to alter position for most comfort
- Not using the equipment correctly (keyboards, mouse, mats, wrist rests etc)
- No training on software programmes being used
- Layout of equipment not efficient, especially if left-handed
- Not taking regular work breaks from intensive keyboard work
- Poor housekeeping, limiting movements of chair and body by storing boxes under the desk or cluttering the desk
- Reflections on the screen
- Using bifocals or varifocal spectacles (causing neck pain)
- No foot rest, causing pressure on the back of the legs
- Sitting too long at the desk with no exercise
Correct any of the problems above and check that all is OK after a week. If there is a health issue then move on to stage two.
Stage Two: Refer any health issues identified to an OH professional; there may be wrist and shoulder problems, back pain, headache, vision problems etc.
The OH professional will
i. Discuss the health issue with the user in a confidential room, before
ii. Starting the investigation into the health issue
iii. Visit the display screen equipment workstation for an in-depth assessment of the work station set up and environment
iv. Watch how the user works at the computer, looking for any setup issues
v. Make recommendations on improving the ergonomics of the situation
When dealing with the health issue at stage 2 above, the OH professional takes a full history, this includes the site of any pain or discomfort, any visits to the GP, history of earlier injury etc.
The painful limb/body part looked at and any abnormality or pain noted. An important part of the process is watching the user at work, looking at keying or mouse movements and watched for incorrect ergonomic posture.
The assessors should note all observations in the medical file.
It is not necessary to ask about general health or health promotion issues, although many use the time allocated for unrelated matters.
When making recommendations to Management for new equipment; I find many users believe ‘if it costs a lot it will do a lot of good’, and the more costly, the better it will be.
Generally, this is not the case for DSE equipment. Many health issues stem, not from poor equipment, but the lack of training on how to set up and use the equipment. And, how to sit properly.
It is helpful to apply the general principles of the DSE regulations to any new requests for equipment, such as does the chair comply with DSE regulations? If not, then a new one is needed. However, an ‘all singing and dancing’ chair is not specified in the regulations. Sometimes they can be worse than a simple chair if they are not adjusted properly. And once one person in a shared office has one then, in my experience, they all want one! So beware of the implications of recommendations and under what rules you are allocating equipment. A fancy chair can cost well over a £1000.
Management will not be impressed after buying a £1000 chair, only to find the same health issues arise three months down the line because the user has not learnt to adjust it properly.
In cases of disability, specialist equipment may be required.
Access to Work teams are available for advising on disability and the right equipment. They are based at the bigger local Job Centres. In some cases, they will help with funding for the equipment too.
Many health conditions related to computer work are usually cleared by paying attention to the first set-up, especially with the attention to posture, chair adjustment training and taking regular work breaks.
However, there will be health issues which may need a further investigation.
Health Issues Linked to DSE Use
Some health issues linked to computer use, such as carpal tunnel are reportable to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Reporting of Injury Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations.
If you think you have a work related DSE condition, make an appointment to see your Doctor, or if you have an OH department, go there. If there is no OHP’s available/Specialist, go to your own GP. However, they may not have the ability to tell you about your work situation.
It is important to have a correct diagnosis so you have the proper adjustments or correct equipment.
Have you Tried
Physiotherapy can help in most cases. Occasionally short-term restrictions from working at a computer can help, but total rest from computer work is only needed when the there is a serious problem.
Advice on good posture for computer use has changed too.
A study carried out by Woodend Hospital found that the best position for sitting and avoiding back pain was to be:
Relaxed and partially reclined at a 135 degree angle(3).
So always try different sitting positions for differing tasks. The secret is not to sit in the same position for too long.
Eyesight and Display Screen Equipment
If you are a computer user, eyesight tests are required by law. Companies have tackled this in various ways.
Testing varies from online eyesight tests to a full examination by an optometrist.
The DSE regulations state that all users must have an eyesight test. OH department tests (using branded eyesight testing machines such as Keystone) do not fully comply with the full requirements so users are within their rights to ask for a full examination by an optometrist or medical practitioner.
In order to cut down on this double testing, I always recommend full testing by an optometrist using a voucher or via a local provider.
A full test serves two purposes – full compliance with the Regulations plus extra tests for eye health, that is, glaucoma.
Where to Go For Eye Sight Testing
Three corporate schemes for eyesight testing
More common now is the home worker situation. Users carry laptops to and fro from work, logging in to local networks, wi-fi’s and sit at communal hot desks. I rarely see any user adjusting a chair or workstation to suit the worker, even though the equipment is fully adjustable.
At home, users sit at the dining room table on a dining room chair with wires trailing, making unacceptable trip hazards. The users seem willing to tolerate this in exchange for the ‘working from home’ benefits. However, home assessments and equipment should have equal importance.
After the Display Screen Equipment Assessment
You can solve many health issues or set up problems with training, changing equipment or moving stuff around. In my experience, very few use a wrist rest correctly. Use it between keying – not during! A formal review between the employee and Management should follow too.
Schedule a formal review between the employee and Management if there are any issues arising.
If there is no improvement or deterioration then refer the issues back to OH.
Revisit DSE assessments after significant changes in the setup, remember to include software programmes, new equipment, office moves and organisational changes.
Pads, Tablets and Laptops, Visual Display Units (Dashboards)
Ergonomically assess dashboards and interface for ease of use and the ability to show a dangerous situation or warning easily.
Health issues from texting, inputting and cramped conditions are occurring; such as blackberry thumb, or shoulder and neck pain from prolonged use of tablets in unnatural surroundings. Even holding the tablet for long periods causes finger and wrist problems.
Laptops are portable; designed for use in a variety of settings. Users shouldn’t use laptops for long periods, but if they do, then ensure it’s in a comfortable place, bearing in mind the Regulations.
Due to their portable nature, a range of hazards need addressing when considering the safe use of both tablets and laptops:
- Ergonomic issues such as body posture, frequency and method of use
- Manual handling issues relating to transport and handling
- Electrical hazards
- Trip hazards associated with the electrical cord
Maintaining good body posture is difficult when using a tablet, pad or laptop as users compact their shoulders and necks to see and use the screens for long periods, increasing the risk of injury.
Many use tablets in awkward postures such as sitting or lying prone on the floor. Also using a tablet horizontally can cause problems. Avoid these positions for long-term work.
Avoid using a laptop in awkward postures such as sitting or lying prone on the floor, and despite its name, don’t use a laptop on your knees for long periods.
General Tips for Mobile Devices
- Take short rest breaks of 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of work, and use stretching techniques too
- Ensure that lighting is right and reflections and sun glare do not cause a visual disturbance in work areas
- Enlarge the print or change the contrast or brightness for better viewing
- Maintain a comfortable viewing distance from your screen
- Tilt the screen of the laptop so that it is perpendicular to your line of sight
- Wherever possible, use suitable computer aids such as docks, laptop stand/cradle, an external keyboard, an external monitor, an external mouse, documents holders etc
- Ensure that cables do not cause a trip hazard
- Attempt to keep sound levels from earphones to a minimum to prevent excessive noise exposure
- Attempt to keep elbows close to the body whilst operating portable devices
- Keep your head and neck in a relaxed posture and avoid excessive neck flexion or rotation
- Turn off the mobile device when not in use
- Use a suitable carry-case or bag when transporting
- Consider how you carry your equipment. Use a balanced backpack rather than a briefcase
- It’s easy to spot a laptop case or briefcase, beware of thieves
Keep copies of completed display screen equipment assessments in a file that is easy for people to check. Visiting HSE inspectors would expect to see completed DSE assessments as part of compliance with the Regulations.
A template DSE assessment form is available here on my website but you will have to register