It seems that one of the most overlooked health and safety compliance regulations that slip through the gaping net of business negligence concerns the use of display screen equipment. In fact, in 2014 research was carried out by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare which found that a staggering 73% of businesses in the UK failed to comply with regulations and less than half of all employers (47%) even felt that they fully understand the regulations. *GASP!* The study was carried out among 138 company directors with HR or Health and Safety remits, representing a total of between 185,083 and 349,802 employees. The implications of how many employees that translates to who are at risk in the UK at any one time is gobsmacking!
The risks of DSE negligence on an employee
Any item of computer-related equipment including the computer, laptops, touch-screens and other devices that incorporate a display screen, keyboard, mouse, desk and chair should be considered part of the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) work station. In turn, an employee who habitually uses DSE as a significant part of their normal work is protected under the Health and Safety (DSE) regulations (1992). Yet it seems that most employers and employees are completely unaware of the impact on health that a poorly arranged work station can have.
The conditions associated with a poorly managed work station, or indeed a workstation that is used incorrectly, can be acute or chronic but either way can cause a lot of pain, discomfort and stress that is easily avoidable at the start. Associated symptoms include temporary eyestrain and headaches and fatigue as well as upper limb pain and Musculoskeletal Disorders.
A survey of DSE users conducted by the Institute of Occupational Medicine for the Health and Safety Executive (2007) found that 75% of users suffered from shoulder, back or neck pain, 60% of users suffered from eyestrain and 50% of users suffered from headaches. Further, upper limb pain can be long term and disabling, with conditions such as tennis elbow, frozen shoulder and carpal tunnel syndrome widely evident.
Further research reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2004) on the possible association between heavy computer users and visual field abnormalities also suggests that spending too long looking at computer screens can contribute to the onset of glaucoma, which can result in blindness.
As well as the direct physical and psychological suffering of individual employees, the results of these conditions is that people work less efficiently and frequently need to take time off work to recover. In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive (2015) an estimated 11.6 million working days a year are lost to work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders, costing money to both the employer and the economy too.
What employers need to do to remain compliant
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations require employers to carry out an analysis and assessment of each user’s work station on a routine basis, or have these carried out by a trained representative (see below). These risk assessments allow employers to evaluate and monitor the risks associated with DSE work stations and ensure that stations are adequately equipped and modifiable to suit the needs of the users and enable them to be appropriately operated without risks to health and safety.
An extension of this regulation also states that account must be taken of daily work routines so that adequate breaks can be incorporated into the working day. This does not necessarily mean a complete break away from work, but a break from the DSE work, and can include tasks that allows staff members a change of activity and gets them away from the screen. It is better if the work allows for natural breaks but it is also possible to install software that can indicate when it would be appropriate for someone to take a break. It is also noted that short frequent breaks are better than fewer longer breaks.
Free eye examinations for users must also be provided upon request. The employer is responsible for paying for tests and for basic spectacles if they are required for DSE work. The employer does not have to pay for designer frames or other additional features, but many employers contribute the cost of basic spectacles if the employee pays the additional costs.
In short, if an employer has DSE users, they must:
Training employees and/or DSE assessors
Employers must provide information, instruction and health and safety training to users or assessors to help them identify risks and safe work practices. It could be that an employer prefers to choose a trained assessor within the company to take responsibility for all risk assessments, or would prefer to train staff to conduct their own risk assessments and provide a standardised work station checklist. Either way, when training users and assessors, the following key points should be considered:
Whatever training methods are used to equip the in-house assessors or employees, employers should check that they have understood the information and that they have reached an adequate level of competence to allow them to complete the tasks safely and reliably. This is often provided as part of a training package, ideally with cheat-resistant tests included with the training.
Every business manager or owner has a responsibility to provide a duty of care to employees. This is fortified by Health and Safety (DSE) regulations which require employees to provide DSE risk assessments and to ensure controls are in place. The consequences of neglecting these responsibilities include a variety of physical and mental health complications for employees and can result in many working days lost on a yearly basis at considerable cost to both business and the economy.
With the use of smart training solutions, employers can ensure that business compliance is maintained and employees are protected from DSE related disorders or complications. This can be by either providing training for a designated assessor(s) or to equip employees to conduct their own risk assessments with clear controls and methods of communication in place. This exercise could considerably improve the current state where around three quarters of businesses in the UK fail to comply with regulations and less than half of all employers even fully understand them resulting in acute and chronic health complications, reduced productivity and increased costs.
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