Last reviewed 14 June 2023
Whether in the office or working from home, using screens in poorly designed workstation or working environments poses health risks that can be avoided. Jon Herbert provides a reminder of employers’ duties.
Wherever their employees are based, employers still have a duty of care to protect workers from the risks to health from work equipment, which includes display screen equipment.
What counts as display screen equipment?
Display screen equipment (DSE) refers to anything with an alphanumeric or graphic display screen. This includes PCs, laptops, tablets, touch screens and smartphones but not televisions.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 place specific duties on employers with regards to the use of display screen equipment.
Who is a “user” with regards to display screen equipment?
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 apply to workers who use DSE on a daily basis for an hour or more at a time. However, they do not apply to staff who use DSE infrequently, or for short periods only.
If in doubt, it is safest to assume your employee is a DSE user.
What do employers need to do about display screen equipment?
carry out regular workstation assessments
reduce the risks associated with DSE use
provide or fund an eye test if the worker requests one
provide training and information on DSE use to help them understand how to mitigate the risks.
Workstations and assessments
Where staff use DSE continuously for 60 minutes or more in daily work, workstation assessments are required and should cover the set-up of the whole workstation (including equipment, furniture and work conditions such as lighting), the type of work involved and any special requirements requested, such as for users with disabilities.
Risks identified in the assessment must then be addressed.
It is recommended that organisations ask employees to carry out their own workstation assessments annually and flag up any issues with their manager. Assessments are also needed when moving to a new workstation, when new users start work, when changes are made to workstations or their use, or when users complain of pain or discomfort.
Software packages can help train users and assist in assessments. But remember that these packages are not an assessment in themselves. Trained assessors can help to clear up doubts, give feedback, and ensure identified problems are corrected.
Eyesight issues and eye tests
There is no evidence that DSE work either in the office or at home causes permanent eye damage. But prolonged spells can lead to discomfort (particularly for contact lens wearers when humidity levels are low), temporary short-sightedness, headaches, fatigue, eye-strain, plus pains in the neck, shoulders, back, arms, wrists hands.
The legislation requires employers to arrange, and pay for, eye tests if requested by the employee.
This should include a full eye and eyesight test by an optometrist or doctor, with a vision test and an eye examination. Employers can choose how they provide tests. For example, letting staff arrange tests and reimbursing costs later or sending all DSE users to one optician.
If glasses are needed for DSE use, employers should pay for them. DSE work is visually demanding and can reveal eyesight problems not noticed before, including changes with age. Employers only pay for glasses for DSE work if tests show that employees need special prescription glasses for the distance screens are viewed at. If ordinary prescriptions are suitable, employers don’t pay.
Employees can help their eyes by checking that screens are properly positioned and adjusted, ensuring good lighting conditions and taking regular breaks from screen work.
Work routine and breaks
By law, employers must plan work breaks, or activity changes, for DSE users. They are responsible for ensuring that users take suitable breaks.
There is no legal guidance about the length and frequency of breaks. Short breaks are better, ie 5 to 10 minutes each hour, rather than 20 minutes every 2 hours. Ideally, users should be able choose their own breaks, ie so they can get up for a short walk or a coffee when they’ve finished a certain piece of work. Break-monitoring software can be used remind users to take regular breaks.
Training and information
Employers must provide health and safety training and information about DSE work risks and how these can be avoided.
Working practices to encourage to mitigate the risks from DSE include:
adjusting chairs and other furniture for correct posture when working with screens
optimising desk space
adjusting screens and lighting to avoid reflections and glare
changing position regularly, moving and stretching
avoiding eye fatigue by regularly changing focus, eg looking at things in the distance
Employees should know who to report any problems or issues to.
Employer responsibilities for homeworkers include not charging for “things done or provided pursuant to their specific requirements”.
There is no increased DSE work from temporary homeworking, although employers should discuss arrangements with employees and take appropriate safety steps to ensure they have the correct equipment and know how to set up their work space correctly to protect themselves from musculoskeletal disorders. They must also provide advice on completing basic home assessments.
Where possible, employers should try to provide equipment (eg keyboard, mouse, and riser) that workers can use at home. They can also help in providing larger items (eg ergonomic chairs, height-adjustable desks, and support cushions) to create a comfortable working environment.
Where employers want to make homeworking arrangements permanent, they must explain how they will carry out assessments and provide appropriate equipment and advice on control measures.
Additional factors to keep in mind
It is also important to consider:
whether brightness and contrast are easily adjustable
if characters onscreen are clear and well-defined
whether size and spacing is adequate
if screens are free of reflective glare.
Lighting conditions must take into account the type of work and needs to allow good contrast between the screen and background environment, ensuring there is no direct glare or distracting reflections.
Low humidity caused by heat from computers and other equipment can lead to eye soreness and discomfort for some contact lens wearers. Maintaining an adequate humidity level is important.