Safe computer use
People who regularly work with computers and other VDUs (visual display units) can be at risk of certain health problems from incorrect use of computer equipment or from sitting at poorly designed workstations.
Which laws relate to workers’ safe computer use?
There are laws in place regarding the health and safety of employees’ safe computer use. These include the Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1992, the Provision and use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
What are the risks of improper computer use?
Some of the problems caused by using computers incorrectly are eye strain, fatigue, headaches, backache, neck discomfort and upper limb problems such as repetitive strain injury (RSI), tenosynovitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
These problems usually occur when a person adopts an unhealthy posture while sitting at their computer. They may have inadequate back support and not move around for long periods of time. Their computer screens may have light reflecting off them or poor screen contrast, causing eye discomfort.
How can health and safety issues be prevented?
Workers can take some responsibility themselves to ensure that the risks are minimised by taking regular breaks from their workstations. Looking away from their screens regularly, doing stretching exercises and standing up and walking around can all help prevent problems arising.
However, by law it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employees’ workstations are ergonomically designed and there are no health and safety risks posed by computer use.
Employers should comply with the laws mentioned above. They must conduct risk assessments on an ongoing basis. Employers should give their staff training to help them identify risks and to learn about safe work practices. Employers should offer eye tests to their staff and pay for glasses that may be required specifically for using display screen equipment at work.
Employers are also responsible for the health and safety of employees working from home using laptops or other VDUs.
While there is no legal limit for the length of time a person should use a VDU, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends taking short, infrequent breaks from the computer such as a 5-10 minute break after using the VDU for 50-60 minutes.
What are the standards for a computer workstation?
- Characters on screen should be well-defined and of adequate size and spacing
- Image should be stable (not flickering)
- Brightness and contrast must be easily adjustable
- The screen should tilt and swivel to suit the user
- The screen should be free of glare and reflections
- There should be a separate base or adjustable table for the screen
- It should be separate from the screen and able to tilt to allow a comfortable working position
- It should have a matt surface
- The keys should have clearly legible symbols
- There should be ample space in front of the keyboard to provide arm and hand support
- There should be adequate space
- It should not be reflective
- The screen, keyboard etc. should fit into the space well allowing for flexible arrangement
- There should be an adjustable document holder at the same level as the screen to allow users to move their eyes comfortably from the screen to a document
- The seat should be fully adjustable in height and the back should be adjustable in height and tilt.
- A footrest should be available
- There should be enough room to change position and vary movement
- The lighting should not be too bright or too dim
- Air temperature should be at a comfortable level and fresh air should be circulated if possible
- Noise levels should be comfortable
For a complete checklist of what aspects of a workstation to include in a risk assessment, you can download the HSE’s Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist.