Display screen equipment (DSE) is any device that has an alphanumeric or graphical display screen. Such devices include computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, televisions, cash register displays, CCTV screens, touchscreens and other equipment. This type of equipment is often in constant use in today’s modern workplaces and their incorrect or excessive use, poorly designed workstations or work environments can present real hazards to users.
Incorrect use of display screen equipment or badly designed workstations or work environments can lead to pain in hands, wrists, arms, necks, shoulders and backs, as well as fatigue and eye strain.
The hazards fall broadly into three categories: musculoskeletal problems, visual fatigue and mental stress.
Musculoskeletal problems are often referred to as repetitive strain injuries (RSI), carpal tunnel or tendonitis. These are progressive conditions that can injure nerves, muscles and tendons in the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, and neck. Ignoring these injuries can lead to long-term damage.
Several factors can cause these types of injuries, including a poor ergonomically designed workstation, poor posture, too much repetitive movement, long periods of work without adequate breaks, a cold working environment, and vibration. There are also factors which affect how susceptible an individual worker can be to these injuries. These include their intrinsic strength, their general health (which may affect their level of tolerance to repetitive strain), and their age.
Under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, an employer must protect DSE users from the health risks resulting from working with display screen equipment. An employee is a DSE user if they use such equipment for an hour or more at a time. The regulations do not apply to workers who use DSE infrequently or only use it for a short time.
Employers are required to take steps to reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks from DSE work and providing an eye test if a worker asks for one. Employers should also arrange training for DSE users (including home workers) that teaches good working practice and correct posture. They should also present information on what to do if the user develops any work-related health problems. The employer should also perform a DSE risk assessment for those employees that fall within the DSE Regulations.
Display Screen Equipment Risk Assessments
The display screen equipment (DSE) risk assessment process should apply to fixed workstations, mobile workers and home workers or other flexible workers. If a worker uses DSE at some form of workstation every day as part of their regular work, continuously for an hour or more, employers must perform a workstation assessment. An assessment must be completed when:
- an existing workstation changes
- how a workstation is to used changes
- a new user starts work (especially important for hot-desking)
- users complain of pain or discomfort, or
- a new workstation is set up.
When performing an assessment, the employer should consider:
- the entire workstation, including equipment, furniture, and environmental factors such as space, lighting, heat, noise and humidity
- the job performed at the workstation
- any special requirements of members of staff who would use the workstation, for example, workers with disabilities or pre-existing conditions
After an assessment, action should be taken to reduce any identified risks.
The HSE provides a free to download DSE workstation checklist which can be used to help complete a risk assessment.
Breaks From Display Screen Equipment Work
The law requires employers to organise work so employees who are DSE users can take breaks or experience changes of activity. Ideally, the user should be able to choose when to take breaks.
There is no legal guidance on how long and how often these breaks should be. However, it is recommended that DSE users frequently take short breaks, rather than longer breaks less often. Break-monitoring software is available that can remind users to take regular breaks. However, even if this is available, it is still the employer’s responsibility to plan work activities adequately and ensure users take suitable breaks.
Any breaks or changes of activity should allow users to move away from their workstations, or at least stretch and change posture.
Eyesight Testing For Display Screen Equipment Users
Working with display screen equipment does not lead to permanent eye damage. However, it is visually demanding, and long spells of DSE work can lead to tired eyes, temporary short-sightedness or headaches.
The law says employers must provide and pay for a full eye and eyesight test for DSE users if they ask for one. An optometrist or doctor should perform the eye test and include a vision test and an eye examination. There is no set guidance on how the employer pays for the test. An employer can let the user arrange the test and then reimburse them for the cost, or they could arrange for all their DSE users to see an optician.
If the test shows an employee needs special glasses prescribed for the distance the screen is viewed at, the employer must fund the basic cost. They do not have to pay if a regular prescription is suitable.
Conclusion: The main health risks arising from working with DSE are fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache. These symptoms tend to originate from the overuse or improper use of display screen equipment. This link is why complying with the requirements of the Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations is so essential if DSE users are to remain healthy and productive workers.
Risk Assessments and Health and Safety Training
Through risk assessments and quality health and safety training the majority of common health and safety issues which lead to injuries and deaths can be prevented.