Computer health and safety
Are you sitting comfortably?
If you or your employees habitually use a computer while working, there are associated risks to be aware of, such as eye strain and even upper-limb disorders. However, the good news is by training staff to use their equipment safely you can greatly reduce the risk of computer-related illnesses.
If your employees work in front of a computer for prolonged periods, you are obliged to comply with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.
This requires employers to minimise the risks posed by computer-related activities and to ensure the workplace and job are designed to avoid computer-related illnesses such as repetitive strain injury (RSI) or upper-limb disorders.
Under the rules, employers are obliged to assess the risks their employees face. This means looking at:
Each employee's workstation should meet minimum requirements, with a suitable desk, adjustable chair and sufficient lighting. Experts recommend that monitors should be positioned an arm's length away, while the user's eyes should be level with the top of the screen.
Nigel Coster is a director of Worksafe UK Ltd, a health and safety consultancy specialising in risk assessments for computer users. He stresses that part of the risk assessment should be to educate employees about how to position themselves at their workstations properly.
"As long as an employer can show they are compliant with the law - and their staff have been made aware of the correct way to use their equipment - any employee trying to sue for injury at work as a result will probably fall on stonier ground, although each case is taken on its own merit," Coster advises.
The screen should be positioned wherever the user finds it most comfortable, away from glare through any windows. Employees should be able to sit upright with their feet positioned on the floor in front of them. Ideally, the keyboard should be placed with sufficient space to rest hands and wrists on the desk. The mouse should be in an easy-to-reach position and employees should be advised not to grip it too tightly.
Where possible, staff using computers should be given the freedom to take breaks from the screen whenever needed. At the very least, they should be advised to look away from the screen frequently, focusing on something in the distance.
�It makes sense to reassess after 12 to 18 months, because people can get into bad habits.�
According to Coster, once staff have been made aware of how to use their equipment properly, employers should re-evaluate the situation whenever an employee's workstation or environment changes. "Although there are no established time limits for reassessment, it makes sense, depending on individual conditions, to reassess after 12 to 18 months, because people can get into bad habits," he explains.
By law, employees can also ask their employer to pay for an eye test (and retesting) when required. Employers have to pay for glasses if prescribed for computer work, but they are only required to buy the most basic pair available.
All employers should encourage their employees to report any health and safety problems quickly. This means they can be given the help they need, while also helping to avoid unnecessary time off work.