Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and the Regulations
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the use of computers became widespread in the workplace. Quickly replacing typewriters, word-processors were the first generation of computing equipment that saw a new way of working in offices and commercial premises across the UK (and the world). Prior to this workplace use of display screens (computer monitors) was limited. However, computers soon replaced not only typewriters but became communication and document storage tools in their own right. Today, no office desk would be complete without a keyboard and monitor. In response to this new technology becoming common in the workplace health and safety regulations were introduced amending the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) with the Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) in 1992. This was a response to concerns over specific health related issues connected to continual daily use of this ‘new’ equipment.
DSE Related Health Conditions
Health conditions that have been identified as related to long term, frequent display screen use include Repetitive Stain Injury (commonly known as RSI), neck, back, shoulders and arm pains. These problems are also known as upper limb disorders (ULD). The pain involved can include minor aches and pains or more serious longer term pain. Eye strain, headaches and even migraine have also been associated with display screen use. Although annoying, and in extreme cases very debilitating, the conditions that result from DSE use are not indicative of serious ill health. They can, however, affect workers ability to perform their jobs efficiently and can also interfere with their activities outside of work. Working with computers on a daily basis should not be seen as inherently risky and with simple steps the risks of RSI, ULD, eye problems or headaches can be reduced. The DSE regulations were introduced to protect DSE workers from the potentially negative affects of this type of work and remain in force today.
What the Legislation Means for Employers
Under the wider legislation covering Health and Safety in the workplace employers have a duty to ensure reasonable steps are taken to safeguard the health of their employees. In terms of computer and display screen use, simple steps to ensure that workers are not at risk of developing DSE related health conditions are generally considered satisfactory. DSE assessment should be undertaken once every year and checking workstations, positioning of screens, chairs and other equipment should be part of this process. Posture is crucial to minimising the risks of developing DSE related conditions. Chairs, desks and screens should be positioned to optimise the best posture for workers.
Another factor in DSE work is adequate breaks from the screen; in the past many office related jobs involved additional task such as filing or copying. The regulations consider these tasks to provide adequate ‘screen breaks’. However, in many roles today, these tasks are no longer required and workers spend more time at the screen (call-centres are a good example). In this case short breaks of five to ten minutes per hour are recommended although this can be aggregated into scheduled breaks during a shift.
Management Responsibilities and DSE Training Courses
The onus is very much on the employer to carry out suitable checks and training for all members of staff who are classified as DSE users. Any issues should be addressed promptly and members of staff provided with suitable equipment (including any specialist equipment) to enable them to complete their work safely. Training is essential for HR staff and training staff along with managers and supervisors who manage DSE users, to ensure that they not only comply with the regulations but help to create a safe working environment for their teams.