Working Safely with Computers

Employers must protect its workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE), such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations apply to workers who use DSE daily, for continuous periods of an hour or more. We describe these workers as ‘DSE users’. The regulations don’t apply to workers who use DSE infrequently or only use it for a short time.

The law applies to all users who have a:

  • fixed workstation
  • mobile workers
  • home workers
  • hot-desking (workers should carry out a basic risk assessment if they change desks regularly)

How to protect workers’ health

In law, employers must:

  • do a DSE workstation assessment
  • reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks from DSE work or do something different
  • provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
  • provide training and information for workers

Failing to protect workers

Incorrect use of DSE or poorly designed workstations or work environments can lead to pain in necks, shoulders, backs, arms, wrists and hands as well as fatigue and eye strain. The causes may not always be obvious

  • Eye strain and eye problems
  • Pains in the hands, arms, shoulders and/or neck
  • Fatigue and stress
  • Epilepsy

Seating and posture for typical office tasks

A good example of someone adopting a good posture at a typical DSE workstation.
  1. Seat back adjustability
  2. Good lumbar support
  3. Seat height adjustability
  4. No excess pressure on underside of thighs and backs of knees
  5. Foot support if needed
  6. Space for postural change, no obstacles under desk
  7. Forearms approximately horizontal
  8. Minimal extension, flexion or deviation of wrists
  9. Screen height and angle should allow comfortable head position
  10. Space in front of keyboard to support hands/ wrists during pauses in keying

Advice on how to set your workstation up

Prepare yourself

  • Eyes – When you have your assessment you will be offered an eyesight test.  Are you wearing the correct glasses or contact lenses?
  • Existing injury or condition – Discomfort may not be entirely due to work.  If you have existing problems you must report them to your line manager.
  • Training – Training will be carried out as part of the DSE assessment.  Make sure you are assessed!

Organise your work
Try not to have very busy and very quiet times.  Try to perform some tasks away from the computer.  Plan rest breaks so that they can be taken evenly throughout the working day.

Position your desk in the room
Try to position your desk sideways to a window or other sources of bright light.  Avoid trailing cables.

Layout of your desk
Are the things you use most often close to you?  Locate your screen, keyboard and mouse directly in front of your seated position for keyboard work.  You may need to move your mouse and keyboard to do non-keyboard work so that you have plenty of room.  Is your document holder (if you use one) adjusted to be the same height as your screen, and as close to the screen as possible to reduce head and neck movements?  Move the screen so that it is comfortable to read.  Is there is enough room in front of your keyboard so that you can rest your hands while not typing?  Make sure there is enough space for your mouse.  Is there anything under your desk that is restricting your changes of position?

Adjust your chair
Is your back supported and the height correct so that your forearms are parallel to the floor and at roughly the same level as your keyboard? Feet – Are they flat on the floor without putting pressure on your thighs – you may need a footrest if this is not possible.

Set up your computer screen, keyboard and mouse
Is the top of your monitor at the same height as your eyes to reduce head and neck movements?  Is brightness and contrast adjusted for you?  Do you have and use a mouse mat?

Adjust your software           
Use easy to read fonts, limit the number of colours you use on the screen, and avoid large areas of white if your screen appears to flicker.  Reduce the problems of reflection by using pastel background colours.  Reduce clutter by removing unnecessary toolbars.  Change the speed of your mouse if necessary: speed up if you have a large screen; slow down if the pointer is difficult to track.

Adjust your environment
Consider anything that you may be able to control: lighting; blinds or curtains; avoid draughts and introduce pot plants to increase humidity; be aware of the overall temperature.

Effective use of rest breaks
Do you take breaks away from your desk – particularly lunch?  Do you take a break before you are tired or uncomfortable? Make breaks shorter and more frequent.

Sitting comfortably all day
Do you sit as close as possible to the desk when using the computer?  Try to keep the curve in your lower back and not lean to one side.  Do you sit rigidly in one position for hours?  Try to remember to lean back and relax, occasionally changing your position.

Correct use of your screen
Move your eyes rather than your head when reading the screen.  Blink often to keep your eyes lubricated and reduce soreness.  Adjust brightness and contrast and swivel the screen to suit lighting conditions and avoid reflections.  How often do you clean your screen?  Dust builds up quickly and should be removed frequently.

Correct use of your keyboard
Do you warm up before starting work?  Do you thump the keys or gently stroke them? Are you a two-finger typist – try to use other fingers and your thumb for the spacebar.  Move the keyboard close to you to avoid stretching, rest your hands when not typing.  Be careful not to rest the soft inner part of your wrist (where you would take your pulse) on the wrist rest or table edge – this could reduce circulation in your hands and fingers.  Try to keep your wrists straight but relaxed.

Correct use of your mouse
Do you hold your mouse with a grip of death?  Try to relax and use a light touch on the mouse buttons.  Keep your mouse clean.  Don’t bend your wrists up or down and vary the way you hold your mouse.  Some mouse mats have a built in wrist rest which some people like to use.  Don’t stretch, bring your mouse close to you and use small movements.

Some problems you may experience and solutions you can use

Eye strain and eye problems

  • Problem – Sore and itchy eyes, tired eyes and headaches, or an existing defect which may become more obvious when using a monitor for any period of time           
  • Solution – Regular breaks for different work activities; ensure lighting is adequate and screen images clear; legible documents; correct positioning of equipment; eye test and spectacles where necessary

Pains in the hands, arms, shoulders and/or neck 

  • Problem – Mild discomfort to severe disabling pain. It is usually caused by rapid repetitive movements of the upper limbs, normally over a long period.  Sometimes people who use the mouse for any prolonged period of time can also have discomfort and/or pain.
  • Solution Build in regular changes of activity, ensure correct positioning of equipment, especially chair and keyboard; don’t hold the mouse too tightly, keep it close so no stretching is involved, use a mat to ensure smooth movement, alternate hands if possible, take short pauses to let the mouse hand hang down from the shoulder, swap the mouse for a different size or shape. The practice of cradling the phone between the shoulder and head should also be avoided for any more than a few seconds.

Although monitors do emit very small amounts of radiation, there is no link with ill-health

Fatigue and stress    

  • Problem – Extreme tiredness, lethargy, aches and pains       
  • Solution – Think about the way you do the job, building in regular changes of activity and doing stretching exercises

Epilepsy is a condition which should have been declared on the pre-employment medical questionnaire and, if applicable, changes will be made to your working environment and monitor.

Contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation.