Many of us use display screen equipment in both our personal and professional lives. Whilst the former tends to only be occasional, working at a screen for an extended period of time as part of your job does have certain risks, particularly if you are unaware of how to safely use your devices.
Many people are unaware that display screen equipment regulations make it a legal requirement to complete a risk assessment when using display screen equipment at work, in order to keep employees safe and healthy whilst working. In this article, we explain these regulations in more detail and highlight the potential risks of using display screen equipment, as well as sharing all the steps you should follow in order to conduct a full display screen assessment.
HSE defines display screen equipment (DSE) as any “devices or equipment that have an alphanumeric or graphic display screen”. This usually refers to PCs or laptops, but can also include phones, tablets and other devices with graphic touchscreens.
A variety of industries and jobs require employees to use display screen equipment on a regular basis, and it is likely that the majority of roles will involve spending at least some of your time looking at a screen. Risk assessments are used to ensure that employees understand the potential complications and hazards that are related to regular use of DSE, as well as ensuring that the equipment is used properly and any unnecessary risks are removed.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (1992) is a piece of legislation that places a responsibility on employers whose staff consistently use display screen equipment every day or a minimum of one hour. It protects employees from the risks of incorrect or extended use of display screen equipment by requiring staff to carry out certain health and safety checks and training and to provide additional equipment to allow for the appropriate use of DSE.
These display screen equipment regulations also apply to people who are self-employed and who use display screen equipment in their day to day work at home.
According to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations, all employers are required to carry out risk assessments of workstations to check that equipment is set up and used correctly, to structure the workday so that employees can take regular breaks from working at DSE, to provide eye tests and corrective eyesight appliances for employees where necessary in conjunction with the use of DSE, and to ensure that all employees have been trained to use DSE safely.
It is because of these display screen equipment regulations that DSE risk assessments must be carried out.
There are three main risks associated with prolonged or improper use of display screen equipment; physical issues, visual fatigue and mental stress.
Physical or musculoskeletal problems are the biggest risk associated with using display screen equipment and the most common risk that incorrect use poses. Using the equipment incorrectly or working at a desk or workstation that isn’t properly set up can cause problems in all kinds of areas, such as your neck, shoulders, back, wrists and hands.
Another risk posed by the long term use of display screen equipment is visual strain and fatigue, which can not only be uncomfortable in your day-to-day life but can also make existing visual issues worse. The visual impact of using DSE is usually only short term, but some people may require additional support such as glasses to comfortably use screens for long periods of time.
The general stress that some employees may experience at work can cause muscles to tense up, which puts your body at a greater risk of injury. If you’re tense whilst working with display screen equipment then the physical issues mentioned above are more likely to occur, which is why mental stress is considered a risk factor.
Whether you’re the employer or manager responsible for completing appropriate safety checks of your employee's workstations, or you’re self-employed and therefore required to carry out your own display screen risk assessment, use the following DSE checklist to carry out a thorough safety assessment.
The first stage of any kind of risk assessment is to identify the hazards that are present. When it comes to display screen equipment, this not only involves checking the devices but also the workstation where the equipment is being used.
You can work through the following list to ensure a thorough risk assessment takes place:
Incorrect use of a keyboard can lead to hand, wrist and shoulder problems, so if a keyboard is being required with display screen equipment then you must assess whether it is being used correctly.
Make sure that there is space on the workstation for the keyboard to fit comfortably, allowing the user's hands to rest on the same surface instead of hanging over the edge and bending their wrists. If the keyboard is thick or raised, additional wrist support may be required.
Finally, make sure that the characters on the keyboard are clear and easy to read so that the user isn’t having to strain to make out what each of the keys represents.
If the display screen equipment is also used in tandem with a mouse or trackpad, you will also need to assess whether this is fit for purpose. First, make sure that the item is suitable for the task it is used for, and propose an alternative (such as a touchscreen) if this would be safer or more efficient.
Next, check whether the mouse or trackpad is in an appropriate position which means the user doesn't have to strain to use it and that their wrist or arm is properly supported. Also, make sure that the device works properly and can be easily adjusted to improve the ease of use if necessary.
The key focus of a display screen equipment risk assessment is checking the display screen(s). Begin by turning on the screen and ensuring that the display is clear and easy to read from, along with assessing whether the colours and level of light are suitable for long term use and don’t cause any eye strain. Note down whether the display is grainy or damaged in any areas, and also check whether the screen is flickering whilst in use.
A key check during this display screen assessment is to determine whether the type of display screen is appropriate for the work taking place. For example, those who just carry out work processing or data inputting don’t require screens with a majorly high resolution, whilst those who work in image editing or graphic design will need increased clarity on the screens they work with.
One of the biggest risks posed by display screen equipment is straining the neck and shoulders because of the screen being in the wrong position. The screen should be movable so that the top of the screen is on a level with the user's eyes, allowing for the most comfortable position whilst working.
Finally, once you have assessed monitor positioning and that the display screen is properly set up, make sure that the location of the screen keeps it out of any direct light that could cause glare, or in a space that restricts the user’s movement.
Another of the most important things to assess when working through a DSE workstation checklist is the furniture used with the equipment. This includes the chair and surface the screen is on.
First, make sure that there is enough space around the equipment for the user to carry out their work. If the area is messy and overcrowded, it is likely that the user will have to work in uncomfortable positions that cause unnecessary physical strain.
Then assess the chair and whether it is fit for use, stable and adjustable. Ensure that it has been adjusted correctly to provide appropriate back support, as well as allowing the user’s arms to rest horizontally and their feet to rest flat on the floor.
Having faulty or unsuitable software or an operating system on your display screen equipment can cause stress and discomfort, which in turn can impact how comfortable you use the equipment. The software should be assessed to ensure that it is running correctly and helping the user complete their work without any unnecessary hassle.
Finally, assess the environment around the computer station and display screen equipment. Make sure that there is enough space to move around to allow for changing positions, and check that any cables belonging to the DSE are organised so as not to pose a trip hazard.
Also assess whether the lighting, heating and noise levels all allow for appropriate work. Some DSE can also dry out the air around it, and if this is the case then consider whether this may impact the user over time.
Once all potential hazards have been identified, the next stage of a display screen equipment risk assessment is to work out who is at risk from all of these. In the case of a DSE assessment, this is pretty easy; the user is the main individual at risk, along with any other employees nearby who may also use or come into contact with the DSE (eg: other staff members who may trip over cables).
To determine what needs to be altered to create a safe working environment, you will have to evaluate the risk that each of your identified hazards poses. To do this, assess the level of harm that could potentially come from each hazard and then the likelihood that each of these could take place. Hazards that pose a serious risk and are highly likely to happen need to be eliminated, whereas those that are unlikely and won’t have very serious consequences are less of a priority to address.
This stage of a risk assessment is arguably the most important; outline the preventative measures that need to take place in order to keep the user as safe as possible whilst using display screen equipment. This could be providing more appropriate devices or furniture, delivering training on the proper way to sit at and use display screen equipment, or improving their setup and environment so that they are more comfortable whilst at work.
Finally, all risk assessments should be recorded so that they can be consulted and updated when necessary to ensure the continued safety of the individuals they concern. There is no official method of presenting a DSE risk assessment, but it should include all of the points mentioned above in order to meet the requirements of health and safety guidance.
In health and safety, DSE stands for ‘display screen equipment’ which refers to any device with a digital display screen. The reason that these devices are included in health and safety regulations is that frequent use can cause certain health issues, so guidance is needed to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to reduce or remove the likelihood of these issues occurring.
Official HSE guidance recommends that your eyes should be on a level with the top of the screen when you are using display screen equipment. This means that you aren’t having to crane your neck at all or strain your eyes, so it is the most comfortable position to be in when working whilst looking at a screen.
Display screen regulations apply to any kind of display screen equipment that is used by workers for an hour or more on a daily basis. This equipment includes anything with an alphanumeric or graphic display screen, such as phones, tablets, laptops and computers.
It might not seem like a particularly hazardous activity, but using display screen equipment incorrectly can have a serious impact on your health in the long term. Knowing what to include in a risk assessment will ensure that you have minimised the risk of injury and strain, keeping you or your employees safe and making sure that you comply with relevant display screen equipment regulations.
If you’d like to learn more about the proper use of Display Screen Equipment, we offer an online ‘Display Screen Equipment (DSE)’ course that covers this risk assessment process and includes more information about how to safely use these kinds of devices.