Display Screen Equipment: Work Safety Advice

image showing the incorrect and correct posture as part of display screen equipment

More people are working from home than ever before due to COVID-19, many for the first time in their careers. Employers have been forced to shift from office-based working to managing remote teams with little notice or planning. Have you implemented appropriate work safety measures for the operation of display screen equipment (DSE) outside the office?

Employers are legally required to conduct workstation assessments in the workplace and many chose to include this in their onboarding process when a new member of staff enters the team. But does your organisation have systems in place to conduct assessments beyond those offered to new employees? Do you know when assessments must be conducted and how to carry them out? What are your responsibilities for people working from home?

In this guide, our health and safety experts will review employee obligations under the law concerning display screen equipment and provide practical advice on how you can ensure compliance.

When is a Display Screen Equipment Assessment Necessary?

Under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, if your employees use display screen equipment — also called visual display units (VDUs) — daily and for periods of one hour or more at a time, employers are required to conduct a workstation assessment. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stipulates that employers must complete an assessment when:

  • A new workstation is set up
  • A new employee starts work
  • An existing workstation set up is altered
  • An employee is expected to complete different tasks or use a workstation in a different way
  • A user complains of pain or discomfort

If you’re uncertain of your obligations under the law, contact us for a free 15-minute consultation. Howlett Health and Safety has over 30 years of experience providing occupational health and safety services to businesses across a wide range of sectors.

What are the Risks of Non-Compliance?

If your employees use a workstation of DSE that is incorrectly set up, they may suffer from:

  • Headaches
  • Discomfort — caused by poorly sized text and images or incorrectly aligned equipment, for example.
  • Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) or repetitive strain injury (RSI).
  • Poor posture —which can result in various aches and pains long-term, such as back and neck ache.
  • A wide range of disorders and pain — associated with long periods using a DSE without regular breaks.

 What Should a Display Screen Assessment Cover?

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance, an assessment should consider:

  • The whole workstation, including equipment, furniture and work conditions
  • The work being undertaken
  • Any special requirements of the employee, such as a disability

image showing person adopting the correct sitting posture at a computer workstationWhat About Homeworkers?

If you have people working from home on a long-term basis, your responsibilities as an employer remain the same as if they were working on-site — you must do whatever is reasonably practicable to protect their health, safety and welfare.

For employees working remotely from home long-term, an employer should provide everything the individual needs to conduct their own display screen equipment assessment. For those working from home temporarily, a DSE assessment is not strictly necessary. However, it is advisable to play it safe and err on the side of caution. Especially if the duration of homeworking is hard to predict, as under the current circumstance with the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic.

Employers should provide information, advice and support to help remote workers complete their own assessment. The HSE has created a “workstation checklist” to help home workers set up their DSE safely.

If your homeworkers are using laptops for long periods, it may be more difficult for them to adopt a healthy posture which could lead to health problems and discomfort. The NHS recommends the following advice for working on laptops:

  • Use a separate keyboard and mouse — this will allow the user to align the screen with their eye-level.
  • Place the laptop on a level, firm base — using a laptop on your knees will lead to poor posture.
  • Take regular breaks — move your eyes away from the screen periodically, stand up and move about or take a short walk.
  • Sit up using appropriate back support
  • Form good habits from the start — prevention is better (and easier) than cure.

What Actions Must be Taken Following a Risk Assessment?

Once a DSE assessment has been conducted, the employer must take reasonable steps to control the risk of harm or injury. This might include:

  • Provide appropriate equipment — where possible, desktop computers are preferable to laptops, used in conjunction with an adjustable chair.
  • Deliver staff training — make sure that your employees know how to set up their workstation to minimise the risk of pain and injury. There are DSE assessment software packages that can help. Employers must provide training that includes guidance on good posture, adjusting furniture, arranging desk space, adjusting screens, taking regular breaks, and how to report problems. 
  • Encourage regular screen breaks — include this in your health and safety policy. Research shows that people often neglect breaks when working from home. There is no legal guidance on the frequency and duration of breaks for DSE work; you will need to decide what is appropriate depending on the work being completed and the individual needs of your employees. Break-monitoring software can be used to remind people to take regular breaks.
  • Arrange an Eye Test for Users — the law states that an employer must make this provision if an employee requests it. They must also cover the cost of the test. If the test shows that the employee needs glasses to work at the distance their screen is viewed at, the employer must pay for these.

How can we help?

If you’d like to know more about how to implement safe working practices for employees who regularly use display screen equipment, contact us for a free 10-minute consultation. We can offer staff training or help you to conduct display screen equipment assessments to ensure that you remain compliant with health and safety law while protecting the welfare of your employees.

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