There are various risks from working with Display Screen Equipment (DSE), and as an employer you must protect your workers from such health risks that can arise from working with PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Display screen equipment checks clearly make sense but are DSE assessments a legal requirement?
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 apply to workers who use DSE daily for an hour or more at a time, and is part of the suite of popular workplace regulations known as the Six-Pack.
What are the dangers of DSE?
The main problems encountered in using DSE and workstations are:
1. Eye strain leading to headaches, fatigue, mental stress etc.
2. Unnecessary tiredness caused by poorly designed or adjusted workstations
3. Repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome, again from badly designed or incorrectly adjusted workstations.
These risks aren’t unique to display screen use and certainly not an inevitable cause of using DSE. In fact the risk to users of display screens is actually very low. However, as in any other types of work, ill health can be brought about from a poor work organisation, environment, job design, posture and poor working methods.
What must be done?
Employers must carry out a suitable assessment of users workstations in order to assess the risks to health and safety.
As with all risk assessments, it should be reviewed if major changes occur such as the delivery of new chairs, workstations, equipment or environment.
What do the regulations say?
Regulation 1 discusses the exemptions of DSE when used in connection with:
- Drivers cabs or control cabs for vehicles or machinery.
- Where it is mainly intended for public operation.
- On board public transport
- Portable systems not in prolonged use.
- Cash registers, small displays
Regulation 2 is the requirement to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk as described above.
Regulation 3 lays down minimum requirements for display screen workstations covering the equipment, environment and the interface between computer and user.
Regulation 4 describes how daily routine must be organised in order that regular and frequent breaks or change in activity are taken away from display screen equipment.
In most tasks natural breaks occur frequently as our attention is diverted from one thing to another and we stand up and sit back down again.
However, where the requirement to focus on a screen for long periods is required, such as a control centre for example, then regular breaks must be planned into the daily routine before the onset of fatigue takes over.
Lots of mini-breaks are preferable and more beneficial than longer breaks, so for example a 10-minute break after 60 minutes is better than a 15-minute break after 2-hours.
Regulation 5 is the employees right to a free eye examination at recommended periods by a trained optician. This can be when they are a current DSE user, or prior to becoming one.
While there is no hard evidence that using DSE causes eye damage, it could make a user with an existing site defect more aware of the problem and cause discomfort.
However, employers shall provide special corrective appliances to users where the following is determined.
a). Normal corrective appliances cannot be used (such as in a safety environment).
b). The result of the eye test shows that such provision is necessary.
Employers are free to nominate a company or optician to provide the tests and prescriptive appliances and need only pay a proportion if the user requests a different or expensive style for personal or vanity reasons.
Regulation 6 relates to training, ensuring that adequate health and safety training is given in respect of use of any workstation and that the training is refreshed following any reorganisation.
The guidance suggests a range of topics including:
- Hazards and risks of the absence of desirable features, and the presence of undesirable ones.
- Causes of risk and harm and how to correct them
- Communicating problems to management.
- The user’s contribution to the assessment.
- Information on the regulations.
Regulation 7 requires that users and operators are provided with adequate information on health and safety relating to their workstation.
It should also include what steps the employer has taken to comply with the regulations insofar as the action taken relates to the operator or user and their work.
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