DSE Risk Assessment: 7 simple steps to safeguard staff

At workAs we discussed in our previous office safety post, ‘desk jockeys’ are at risk from a range of health and safety issues, with back pain alone responsible for 7.6 million lost work days every year. One major factor is the use of display screen equipment (defined by the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as any alphanumeric or graphic display screen), which along with back pain is also associated with neck, shoulder and arm pain, as well as with fatigue and eyestrain. In this short guide we look at the ways you can ensure workstations comply with DSE regulations, reducing sick days and improving the overall health of your workforce.

1. Take a break

  • According to the DSE Regulations, employers need to plan workers’ activities so that that their daily work on display screen equipment is periodically interrupted by such breaks or changes of activity. While there are no specific recommendations as to the length or frequency of breaks, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gives the guidance:
  • Breaks should be taken before the onset of fatigue, not in order to recuperate and   when performance is at a maximum, before productivity reduces. The timing of the break is more important than its length.
  • Breaks or changes of activity should be included in working time. They should reduce the workload at the screen, i.e. should not result in a higher pace or intensity of work on account of their introduction.
  • Short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer breaks: e.g., a 5-10 minute break after 50-60 minutes continuous screen and/or keyboard work is likely to be better than a 15 minute break every two hours.
  • If possible, breaks should be taken away from the screen.

2. Adjust your screen

  • Eye strain and fatigue is a major risk when using display screen equipment for extended periods of time. Steps to insure your screen complies with the regulations include:
  • The characters on the screen should be well defined and clearly formed, of adequate EyeStrainsize and with adequate spacing between the characters and lines.
  • The image of the screen should be stable with no flickering or other forms of instability.
  • The brightness or the contrast between the characters and the background needs to be easily adjustable by the operator and also be easily adjustable to ambient conditions.
  • The screen must swivel and tilt easily and freely to suit the needs of the operator.
  • Where possible a separate base for the screen or an adjustable table should be used.
  • The screen should be free from reflective glare liable to cause discomfort to the user.

3. Choose your keyboard

As the most commonly used input device for most display screen equipment, it is vital to set up your keyboard correctly:

  • The keyboard should be tiltable and separate from the screen, so as to allow the worker to find a comfortable working position avoiding fatigue in the arms or hands.
  • The space in front of the keyboard needs to be sufficient to provide support for the hands and arms of the operator.
  • The keyboard should have a matt surface to avoid reflective glare.
  • The arrangement of the keyboard and the characteristics of the keys should be such as to facilitate the use of the keyboard.
  • The symbols on the keys should be adequately contrasted and legible.

4. Take a seat

  • An ergonomically designed workstation is key to protecting yourself while working at a screen. Factors to consider include:
  • Work desks should have a sufficiently large, low-reflectance surface and allow a flexible arrangement of the screen, keyboard, documents and related equipment.
  • There should be adequate space for workers to find a comfortable position.
  • The work chair must be stable and allow the operator easy freedom of movement and a comfortable position.
  • The seat and seat back should be adjustable in both height and tilt.
  • A footrest needs to be made available to anyone who wants one.

5. Let there be (the right) light

Another important consideration is the lighting conditions where display screen equipment will be used. Room lighting or spot lighting (work lamps) should ensure satisfactory lighting conditions and an appropriate contrast between the screen and the background environment, taking into account the type of work and the user’s vision requirements. You should also aim to prevent any possible disturbing glare and reflections on the screen by co-ordinating workplace and workstation layout with the positioning and technical characteristics of the artificial light sources. Windows should be fitted with a suitable system of adjustable covering to attenuate the daylight that falls on the workstation.

6.  Get your eyes tested

The Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 state that workers are entitled to an appropriate eye and eyesight test carried out by a person with the necessary capabilities:

a.         Before commencing display screen work

b.         At regular intervals thereafter and

c.         If they experience visual difficulties due to display screen work.

Under the regulations, workers are entitled to a free eye examination and, if necessary, must be provided with special corrective lenses.  Under no circumstances should workers be liable for any additional financial cost.

7.  Become a DSE expert

With DSE being one of the commonest kinds of work, there is potential to make work more comfortable and productive for a very large number of people by taking a few simple precautions. Fortunately RoSPA now offer DSE Assessors and Ergonomic Principles course, enabling employers to ensure compliance with the relevant HSE guidance notes and to reduce the risk of associated ill-health effects. For more information please visit our DSE Assessors page.

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