DSE in the workplace is becoming increasingly popular among businesses today, including the use of Digital Screen Equipment (DSE). While most display screens are not considered harmful, improper use can lead to long-term health risks. Failure to manage DSE use can result in employee injury, costly fines, and business losses.
This guide will provide an overview of display screen equipment, the applicable laws, and how to manage DSE for both office and remote workers.
What Is Display Screen Equipment (DSE)?
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) is now a standard item of work equipment within most businesses (large and small). Tablets, smartphones, iPads, touchscreens, video walls… the list is now pretty long. If it is commonplace for you to be using DSE in the workplace (or indeed within a homeworking environment) for approximately an hour or more on a daily basis, then you are likely to be considered a DSE user.
If display screen equipment is not used correctly, it can lead to a wide variety of musculoskeletal disorders, injuries, and illnesses. Aches, pains, and discomfort in the neck, back, arms, or shoulders, as well as eyestrain, can result from poor posture, a lack of breaks, inadequate furniture, and equipment. Other work activities that also affect the body (e.g., driving, manual handling) can often exacerbate these issues.
Understanding Employer Duties Under the Law
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 place certain duties on employers to identify and manage the risks associated with DSE use. Key among these duties is the need to conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessments—in this case, DSE risk assessments.
The DSE risk assessment, above and beyond being a legal requirement, helps to ensure that an individual’s workstation is set up in the most optimal way to ensure comfort and minimise discomfort and fatigue (which, over a prolonged period, can have a serious negative effect on the health and wellbeing of employees).
DSE risk assessments will typically involve a thorough check of the entire workstation, including all supplied equipment (chair, desk, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.), as well as indubitable posture and local environmental factors. The DSE risk assessment will help identify the need for minor changes to the ergonomic arrangement of equipment within the workstation set-up, all of which will enhance long-term comfort for the user.
Working patterns and locations have evolved considerably over recent years (and even more dramatically post-COVID-19); homeworking, remote working, and hybrid working can all make the task of managing the risks from the use of DSE particularly challenging, but that core legal responsibility for employers still remains.
How To Manage Display Screen Equipment in The Workplace
HSE Workstation Guidelines-Equipment and Controls & Workstation Risk Assessment
The humble chair is probably the single most important item of furniture for avoiding musculoskeletal disorders. Before attempting to adjust your chair, you should make sure you are familiar with the various adjustments and how they work. The chair must have a five-star castor (or glide) base, be stable, and have all components in full working order. The chair must have sufficient design features to allow it to be set up correctly for all people who may potentially use it and offer adequate back and thigh support, potentially including adjustable or inflatable lumbar support.
DSE regulations say the chair must be height-adjustable. If your knees are at a 90-degree angle (approximately horizontal) to your hips, then this is the correct height for you. The chair must be able to accommodate the stature and weight of the user or all users (if hotdesking arrangements are in place). The chair must allow for height and tilt adjustment of the seat and backrest, although these do not have to be independent mechanisms.
Most DSE-use workstation chairs come with armrests. They are intended to support the arms when you are at rest from your DSE work (on the telephone, reading a document, etc.). They should not be used as an extension of the desk to rest your arms while using your keyboard or input device, as there is a risk of irritating the nerves in the elbow and lower arm.
2) Work Desk
The work desk should be sufficiently large to accommodate equipment, including a display screen monitor, processor, keyboard, mouse (DSE set), telephone, document holder (where used), and any other equipment and documentation you need to perform your role.
There should be sufficient space under your desk or table for your legs to fit comfortably into what we generally call the footwell area. If this is not the case, look at what is restricting your legs. If the tops of your thighs or knees touch the underside of the desk when you bend your knees to 90 degrees, the desk needs to be raised.
If you have boxes, files, or other materials under the desk, then move them to a more appropriate storage area. If your feet are catching on cables or a floor trap for power sockets and network supply, the cables need to be tidied, or the floor trap moved safely.
HSE workstation guidelines state the monitor should be suitable for your role and the tasks you need to carry out. Your monitor should be placed directly in front of you. The recommended viewing distance is approximately 600mm (roughly arm’s reach), but this can vary depending on your personal circumstances.
The viewing height of your monitor is also important for comfortable viewing and will depend on your personal circumstances. From your normal seating position, looking straight ahead, the top of the viewing screen should be roughly level with your eyes to allow you to view the top third of the screen comfortably.
If the monitor is too high, you may find yourself lifting your head and cricking your neck, whereas if it is set too low, your back may slouch to bring your head down to a better viewing position.
Place the keyboard directly in front of you so that you can reach the home keys comfortably, with your elbows tucked into the side of your body and your forearms extended horizontally in front of you. There should be an approximately 100–150mm gap from the front edge of the desk to the front edge of the keyboard to allow you to rest your hands when you are not typing. The wrist rest (potentially placed between the edge of the desk and the keyboard) is not really designed for support but to ensure straight arm and wrist posture. Avoid overextending your wrists (raising the fingers upwards) by using the keyboard in a flatter position and using a comfortable wrist rest (to the same height as the keyboard) as necessary.
HSE DSE rules say your keyboard and mouse should be positioned near the height of your resting elbow. Your mouse should be positioned so your arm is in a comfortable, neutral position, as close to the keyboard as possible, and in alignment with your shoulder. Incorrect positioning of the mouse can put unnecessary strain on your arm and shoulder. When your keyboard and mouse are properly adjusted, your wrists will be level and straight. You will be able to use your mouse without bending your wrist. You will also be able to use your keyboard without resting your wrist on the surface or edge of the desk.
5) DSE Breaks
When using DSE for prolonged periods, ensure that regular breaks away from the workstation are incorporated into your work routine. Short, frequent breaks are better. For every 55 minutes that you work at DSE, you should take a 5-minute break or a quick 2-minute break every 30 minutes. The absolute duration of the break is not as important as the breaking up of long routine work periods where fixed postures are not relaxed.
It is more beneficial to take a break away from the workstation, as this allows you to vary your posture. It is not essential to take a complete rest break but rotate your tasks so you are completing physically dissimilar activities such as using the phone, filing, mail sorting, etc. You should avoid physically similar tasks, such as writing or using a calculator, during your DSE breaks. The timing of the DSE breaks is actually more important than the length, so you should try to ensure that these breaks are taken before you become tired.
6) Working Environment
Poor or inappropriate lighting may be a significant cause of problems for display screen users. There should be sufficient ambient lighting in the area to enable you to see both the screen and documents clearly, but not so bright or glaring that the screen is difficult to read. Also, consider DSE equipment placement in terms of windows. Consider using window blinds as necessary to reduce unwanted bright daylight at certain times of the day.
Sites with large amounts of electrical equipment (DSE, photocopiers, printers, etc.) are often hot and stuffy, and the humidity level drops (giving rise to static electric shocks), which can result in fatigue, headaches, dry throats and eyes. Such problems can also arise due to a lack of fluids, so drink water regularly and avoid too many caffeine drinks.
Try to avoid unnecessary clutter around as well as under your desk; it may make it difficult for you to reach or use your equipment properly, so keep your desk and the area around the workstation tidy. Keep electrical cables tidy to reduce fire hazards and the chances of tripping.
Final Employer Takeaways:
Recent statistics from the HSE, with data up to early 2023, showed that in 2022/2023, there were 473,000 workers in Great Britain suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (new or longstanding), leading to 6.6 million lost working days—almost a quarter of all workdays lost due to ill health.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders by affected area, 2022/23: 17% lower limbs (82,000); 41% back (195,000); 41% upper limbs or neck (196,000)
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders showed a generally downward trend. The current rate is similar to the 2018–19 pre-coronavirus level.
As mentioned earlier, working patterns and locations have evolved considerably over recent years (and even more dramatically post-COVID-19); homeworking, remote working, and hybrid working can all make the task of following DSE regulations and managing the risks from the use of DSE particularly challenging, but core legal responsibility for employers still remains.
💡As an employer, it’s crucial to comply with HSE DSE safety legislation and provide proper care for DSE users, whether they are in the office or at home. Failing to do so could lead to injuries, fines, and business losses.
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