As we discussed in our post on DSE regulations, display screen equipment (DSE) can give rise to a variety of ill health conditions when used habitually. The most prevalent damage to users is repetitive strain injury (RSI), which is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. In this special report, which appears in this month’s RoSPA OSH Journal, we look at how to protect yourself and your employees from injury.
In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), tendonitis and tenosynovitis, DSE workers can also experience are a wide range of physical and psychological health problems including lower back pain, temporary myopia, eyestrain, blurred vision, headaches and work-related stress. All these work-related problems are caused by a combination of badly designed jobs, poorly arranged equipment (or simply, poor equipment) and working environments, often coupled with unrealistic deadlines. Most can be prevented by rigorous attention to the way in which jobs are organised, and by provision of appropriate equipment and workstations.
Display screen regulations
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations came into effect in January 1993 (with some small changes being made in 2002) and require employers to conduct a thorough risk assessment by identifying what display screen equipment is used in their workplaces and who uses it and when – always remembering that more than one person may use the same workstation.
The main areas for consideration are:
- the provision of suitable chairs which can be adjusted for height and provide support for the back. The employee must be able to sit with their knees level with their hips and their feet flat on the floor. Sometimes a footrest may be needed for this. Good posture is the key to avoiding RSIs and back pain and this means that crossing the legs should be discouraged. The chair height needs to be adjustable so that operators can use the keyboard with their wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. The elbows should be by the side of the body so that the arm forms an L-shape at the elbow joint.
- the DSE screen should be directly in front of the operator. A good guide is to place the screen about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. To achieve this, it may be necessary to get a stand for the screen: if it is too high or too low, users will have to bend their necks, which can be uncomfortable and cause tension leading to headaches.
- the keyboard should be directly in front of the user when typing, with a gap of about four to six inches (100mm-150mm) at the front of the desk so that it is possible to rest the wrists between bouts of typing. The wrists should be straight when using a keyboard. Some people find that a wrist rest helps to keep their wrists straight and at the same level as the keys.
- the mouse or trackball should be positioned as close as possible to the user. A mouse mat with a wrist pad may help to keep the wrist straight and avoid awkward bending. If the keyboard is detachable, push it to one side when using the mouse a lot.
- the screen should be as glare-free as possible. Position the screen to avoid reflection from overhead lighting and sunlight. If necessary, pull the blinds across the windows and replace ceiling lighting with table lights. Adjusting the screen’s brightness or contrast can make it much easier to view and users should be told how to do this.
- people with bi- or vari-focal spectacles may find them less than ideal for computer work. It’s important to be able to see the screen easily without having to raise or lower the head. If the user can’t work comfortably with bifocals, a different type of spectacles may be needed.
- it is important that staff are told about the reasons for sitting in a certain way and shown how to adjust their chairs and positions of screens and keyboards. It is also important that they are encouraged to leave their workstations at regular intervals to do other tasks, get a cup of coffee or do some simple stretching exercises.
Free eye examinations for those identified as DSE users (ie. those using the equipment as a major part of their work, consistently for more than an hour every day) must be provided on request. The employer is responsible for paying for tests and for basic spectacles if they are required for DSE work. The employer does not have to pay for designer frames or other additional features but many employers contribute the equivalent cost of basic spectacles if the employee pays the additional cost.
The increased popularity of laptops is adding to the upper limb disorders problem. The main issue with laptops is that they are designed with the keyboard being attached to the screen. The screen should be at arm’s length but the keyboard has to be near to the user. If one pushes the laptop further back, then the hands have to stretch out, which means hunching the shoulders. Ideally laptops should have detachable screens but since most don’t it is essential that employers instruct employees in safe laptop usage, including this advice from NHS Choices:
- Use the laptop on a stable base where there is support for the arms
- Do not use it on your lap
- Take regular breaks. If you’re moving, there’s a lot less stress on your muscles and joints
- Adopt a good sitting posture with lower back support and ensure that other desk equipment is within reach
- Get into good habits before the aching starts since neck, shoulder and back problems gradually build up over time
Finally, regular screen breaks also help to combat work related stress – meaning a happier workforce all round!
This is an abridged version of an article by Jacky Steemson, which originally appeared in RoSPA’s Occupational Safety & Health Journal. For more vital health and safety guides, facts and advice, sign up to SafetyMatters, RoSPA’s free fortnightly newsletter and receive our collection of free original e-books!
Phil Green, Director, Safety, Health and Environmental Department, Kier Group will be speaking at RoSPA’s annual Construction Health and Safety Conference 2015, you can find more information by going here.