Safety & Health Practitioner
Despite being one of the lower risk activities in the workplace and having technology available to us, the use of display screen equipment is not always well managed. One of the best ways to see how an organization is managing DSE is simply to walk around the office and observe the postures of those at work, says Adam Clarke, Managing Director (Consulting), at Praxis42.
You may notice people slumped backwards, leaning forwards, or generally not looking very comfortable. Minor adjustments to work equipment and working practices can have a long-lasting impact without needing a significant investment.
With more people than ever working from home, now is a great time to engage and help support their health and wellbeing.
What is DSE?
Display screen equipment is a broad title that covers everything from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, and also includes the equipment needed to use them correctly, such as keyboards and wireless mice. The DSE regulations were written thirty years ago, and technology moves at such a fast pace that most of the equipment just mentioned didn’t even exist then!
Managing the risk from DSE requires consideration on how the user uses the equipment, how frequently they use the equipment and where they use the equipment, even when at home.
Why should I manage DSE?
At the heart of every organization are the people – and people spend a lot of time using display screen equipment, an essential tool for work. Joining a Teams meeting, picking up an email on their phone, or working on the train are common activities when working in an agile way.
Now imagine if they are unable to work because they are on sick leave due to one of the most common health conditions linked to DSE use, a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
MSDs are entirely preventable and sadly, on average, cause the person suffering to be off work for nearly two and a half weeks. (18.4 days).
Losing a colleague unexpectedly for that length of time will have an impact on their team and ultimately the customers the organization serves.
Conversely assessing DSE risk, and giving people the information and equipment they need to stay healthy will have a positive impact on their wellbeing and reinforce that they are cared for.
Which scenario do you prefer?
So… what does the law say?
Well, if your moral heart strings were not pulled by what you just read, then the law is here to help.
Every employer must assess the risk of DSE use, including taking into account the vast differences in people. Whilst the majority of DSE users will require a typical setup, some will have pre-existing medical conditions such as sciatica, and some may have very complex cases, which will more than likely require consultation with a specialist.
Assessing the risk will allow measures to be taken to ensure everyone can be comfortable whilst working with DSE equipment. Comfortable people are less likely to suffer from short-term pain such as fatigue, or eye strain. And they are also less likely to suffer from long-term pain such as back, neck and upper limb disorders.
Identifying health risks
Most of the health risks associated with DSE come from either a poor setup, or from not using the equipment correctly. These behaviors are often associated with people who have never been assessed and/or not informed. Fortunately, both can be remedied rapidly. Online DSE training and DSE self-assessments can enable people to self-serve and close out actions themselves, such as adjusting their chair and ordering a footrest.
For those people with more complicated needs, they should be supported by their manager, or a specialist.
A lot is known about DSE use and the impact it can have. There are some very common situations to look out for in the workplace:
- Uncomfortable, damaged, or poorly-designed chairs.
- Computer mouse or keyboard positioned too far away from the user.
- Laptops being used for long periods of time without a separate screen.
- People sitting at a workstation for significant periods of time.
If these situations are common, then now is the time to act and assess.
Without action, the impact of these situations can lead to MSDs such as discomfort and pain in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. These are all situations which could result in lost days as people need to recover. In the worst cases where employers are negligent, people who have suffered harm can bring civil claims for compensation.
These are all factors that are personally damaging to an employee’s wellbeing, as well as leading to reduced productivity for your organization. There is no need to let any situation go that far.
DSE workstation assessments
As previously mentioned, an assessment is undertaken on the user with the purpose of identifying any factors which could put them at risk. If working from home, a separate or combined assessment may be appropriate.
The assessment will consider the equipment, the furniture, and the environment. Some examples of what is typically assessed include:
- Keyboard and mouse are in a comfortable position.
- Screens are at the correct height and free from glare and reflections.
- Work surfaces are large enough for the equipment, stationery and documents needed to complete the work.
- Work surfaces have enough space for the equipment.
- Desk is at appropriate height.
- Thermal comfort – temperature, ventilation, humidity.
Recording the findings of the assessment will help your people take ownership of the outcomes and allow you to validate that action has been taken.
Assessments are live documents and need to be reviewed when change occurs such as:
- A user complains of pain or discomfort.
- A user moves to a different office.
- A change to equipment or furniture.
And if nothing changes it is a good idea to have people review the assessment annually.
To help with the assessment, the HSE has developed a workstation checklist, whilst specialist companies can provide an online solution to streamline the whole process.
Managing the findings
Good news, now you have assessed your people you have the information you need to keep them healthy. Here are some examples of solutions that can help reduce risk:
- Fixing faulty equipment or providing new equipment.
- Helping the employee to understand the benefit of better postures.
- Providing equipment or software training.
- Encouraging the employee to rearrange their workstation.
- Repositioning power sockets so equipment can be moved.
- Improving lighting, ventilation, air conditioning or heating.
Finally, one of the simplest ways to improve health and wellbeing is to get up and move! Humans are not designed to sit down for long periods of time. Encourage your people to get up, move about, put the kettle on, take that phone call on a wireless headset, and go for a walk.
Approaches to managing the risks associated musculoskeletal disorders
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with musculoskeletal disorders.
Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organization and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.