Laptops, tablets, devices and other display screen equipment (DSE) are a necessity for most modern workplaces. But use of such equipment can expose employees to health risks. This guide explains what is DSE and outlines employers’ obligations for controlling and managing the risks associated with DSE.
Display screen equipment (DSE) such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones are a common feature of modern workplaces. Employers are legally obliged to protect employees from risks to health caused by using display screen equipment. If equipment is used incorrectly or workstations are poorly designed, it can result in health problems such as backache, upper limb problems, fatigue and eye strain.
Official statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2019/20, 480,000 workers in Great Britain suffered from musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), which led to 8.9 million lost working days. That equates to an average of 18.4 days lost per MSD case.
All employees who regularly use display screen equipment as part of their duties are required to undergo DSE training. Our Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Training Course helps ensure employees can work safely with display screen equipment, identify risks and know how to avoid problems by using simple ergonomic principles.
What is DSE?
The HSE defines display screen equipment as “devices or equipment that have an alphanumeric or graphic display screen and includes display screens, laptops, touchscreens and other similar devices”.
DSE typically includes:
- Computer monitors
- Tablet computers
- TV screens
- Electronic display systems
- CCTV camera monitors
Who is a DSE user?
Employers’ legal obligations for protecting employees from the health risks associated with display screen equipment apply wherever they are using the equipment for work purposes for an hour or more at a time. That includes:
- At a fixed workstation.
- Mobile workers.
Employers should protect all employees using display screen equipment, but they should pay particular attention to pregnant workers who may experience discomfort from use of devices and those with pre-existing musculoskeletal disorders and eye conditions.
Health risks associated with using display screen equipment
If an employee is using a badly designed workstation or prolonged episodes of use, it can lead to poor and awkward postures, pain, discomfort or chronic conditions. Examples include:
- An uncomfortable or poorly designed chair.
- A computer mouse positioned too far away.
- A laptop screen not set at the correct height.
- Unrealistic work rates of lack of rest pauses.
This can result in MSDs such as discomfort and pain in the back, neck, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Certain conditions are referred to as repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Regular use of screens without taking steps to reduce the risks can cause visual problems, including sore or tired eyes, eye strain and fatigue that might lead to headaches.
Not only are the health risks associated with display screen equipment personally damaging to the employee’s wellbeing involved, but they can also harm an organisation’s operations through lost working days and reduced productivity due to employee absenteeism.
Display screen equipment regulations
Employers’ display screen equipment obligations are covered by the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992. It applies to employees who use display screen equipment daily, for more than one hour at a time.
The DSE regulations do not apply to employees who are infrequent users of display screen equipment or use it for a short period and are not reliant on it to fulfil their job function.
By law, employers must:
- Carry out a workstation assessment.
- Reduce risks, including ensuring employees have planned breaks from using display screen equipment.
- Arrange an eye test for an employee who asks for one and provide glasses if an employee needs them only for DSE use.
- Provide display screen equipment training for employees.
What are good DSE practices?
The Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 place various legal obligations on employers. They include:
Display screen equipment workstation assessments
Employers must conduct a DSE workstation assessment if an employee’s normal work involves using DSE continuously for an hour or more. The assessment is needed to identify any risks and must be undertaken by someone that is competent. If any risks are identified, they must be managed through effective controls.
What is a DSE assessment?
A DSE assessment must examine:
- The whole workstation, including the equipment and furniture.
- The workplace environment, such as noise and lighting.
- The tasks being completed at the workstation.
- Any special requirements needed for people such as those who are pregnant or have a disability.
Employers are also required to do a DSE assessment when:
- A new workstation is set up.
- A new employee starts work.
- A change is made to an existing workstation or the way it’s used.
- A user complains of pain or discomfort.
Checks during the assessment include ensuring:
- Keyboards and computer mice are in a comfortable position.
- Characters on screens are sharp, in focus and don’t flicker.
- Screens are free from glare and reflections.
- Work surfaces are large enough for the necessary equipment, stationery and documents.
The HSE has a workstation checklist you can download or better still make use of an online workstation assessment solution that automates the process and cuts out the paperwork.
You should make a record of your significant findings. If you have five or more employees, you are legally required to record your assessment.
You should regularly review your assessment.
If an assessment identifies risks, you must deal with them. Measures to take could include:
- Fixing faulty equipment or providing new equipment.
- Training the employee in how to adopt better postures or how to use equipment or software features.
- Encouraging the employee to rearrange their workstation.
- Repositioning power sockets so equipment can be moved.
- Improving lighting, ventilation, air conditioning or heating.
Breaks and changes of activity
By law, employers must ensure DSE users have regular breaks or changes of activity. This allows them to move around, stretch and change posture. There is no legal guidance on how long breaks should be, but the HSE advises that more frequent short breaks often are better than less frequent longer breaks.
Most employees can alternate their DSE use with other activities such as attending meetings and making phone calls. If not, they should have planned regular breaks or changes of activity.
Just like they are with employees working in a business’ premises, employers are legally required to manage the risks associated with DSE for employees working from home.
For employees working from home permanently or over a long period, employers must undertake workstation assessments and provide them with appropriate equipment and training on control measures that may be required following the assessment.
For employees working in an agile or hybrid way, an assessment is still required and controls may be more aligned with training and establishing good ergonomic principles to place they are work at from time to time..
By law, employers must inform users about their eye test policy and arrangements for the provision of an eye test if a DSE user asks for one. Tests should be an eyesight examination by a qualified optometrist or doctor. An employer can either let an employee arrange their own test and reimburse them for the cost or arrange tests themselves.
If a test shows an employee requires special glasses for the screen’s distance, the employer must pay for the glasses.
Providing display screen equipment (DSE) training for employees who rely on DSE is a legal requirement. Training should cover the risks involved with DSE and how to avoid them. It should include advice on:
- Good posture.
- How to properly set up a workstation.
- How to ergonomically adjust seating, keyboard and screen.
- The importance of taking breaks and changing activities.
- How to report problems.
- Findings of the workstation assessment and the controls to be applied.
Ensure your organisation complies with the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 with our Display Screen Equipment (DSE) training. Fully IOSH Approved, CPD Certified and SCORM Compliant training.
Download our free workstation assessment+ guide for additional guidance.