Visual display units
Visual display units (VDUs) often lead to a wide range of health problems, such as aches and pains in their hands, wrists, arms, neck, shoulders or back. These are known as 'upper limb disorders'. Usually, these disorders don't last, but in a few cases, they may become serious. Problems are generally caused by how VDUs are being used, rather than by the VDUs themselves.
Health problems can therefore be avoided through good workplace design and ensuring your employees use their VDUs and workstations properly.
If your staff uses VDUs frequently, you're legally required to make sure the workplace is well designed to reduce associated health risks. This also applies if you have employees who work from home.
The same responsibility doesn't necessary apply if your staff use VDUs only occasionally, but you still have general duties to protect them from health and safety risks.
What law applies?
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment Regulations) 1992
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992
The design features of laptops can make prolonged use uncomfortable. If possible, employees should avoid using laptops. Otherwise, they should use equipment to help avoid problems, such as a docking station.
When you carry out The 5-step approach to risk assessments, you need to analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks.
- The whole workstation, including equipment, furniture and the work environment;
- The job being done; and
- Any special needs of individual staff.
How to remove or reduce risks
Ensure workstations meet minimum requirements
These include features such as adjustable chairs and suitable lighting. They are set out in a schedule to the regulations, covering screens, keyboards, desks, chairs, the work environment and software.
Plan work so there are breaks or changes of activity
It's important that employees take regular breaks. The length of breaks depends on the nature of their work. Ideally, the employee should have some discretion over when to take breaks.
Arrange eye tests if necessary, and provide eyeglasses if special ones are needed
You should provide and pay for an eye and eyesight test if your employees are covered by the regulations (in Scotland, eye tests are free). Employees are also entitled to more tests at regular intervals; the optometrist can recommend when the next test should be. You should only have to pay for eyeglasses if the employee needs special ones.
Provide health and safety training and information
You must train employees to make sure they can use their VDUs and workstations safely. This training should also include general background information, such as:
- The steps you're taking to comply with the regulations;
- The action you're taking to reduce risks; and
- The arrangements for breaks.
What steps you and your employees should take
- Adjust their chairs and VDUs to find the most comfortable position for their work. As a broad guide, their forearms should be approximately horizontal and eyes the same height as the top of the VDU.
- Make sure they have enough space for their work.
- Find the best arrangements for keyboards, screens, mice and documents. A document holder may help avoid awkward neck and eye movements.
- Arrange their desks and VDUs to avoid glare or bright reflections on the screen. This will be easiest if neither the employee nor their screen is directly facing windows or bright lights.
- Adjust curtains or blinds to prevent unwanted light.
- Make sure there is space under their desks to move legs freely, moving any obstacles such as boxes or equipment.
- Avoid excess pressure from the edge of their seats on the backs of legs and knees. A footrest may be helpful, particularly for smaller users.
- Adjust keyboards to get a good keying position. A space in front of the keyboard is sometimes helpful for resting hands and wrists.
- Try to keep their wrists straight when using the keyboard, keeping a soft touch on the keys and not overstretching fingers.
Using a mouse
- Position the mouse within easy reach so it can be used with the wrist straight.
- Sit upright and close to the desk, so their mouse arm isn't stretched, moving the keyboard out of the way if it's not being used.
- Support their forearms on the desk, and don't grip mouse too tightly.
- Rest fingers lightly on the buttons and don't press them hard.
Reading the screen
- Adjust brightness and contrast controls on the screen to suit lighting conditions in the room.
- Make sure the screen surface is clean.
- Ensure fonts onscreen are big enough to be read when sitting in a normal, comfortable working position, selecting colours that are easy on the eye.
- Ensure individual characters on the screen are sharply focused and don't flicker or move.
Posture and breaks
- Ensure they don't sit in the same position for long periods and that they change posture as often as possible. Repeated stretching to reach things should be avoided. If this happens a lot, the workstation should be rearranged.
- Most jobs provide opportunities to take a break from the screen, e.g. to do filing or photocopying. They should take these breaks. If there are no natural breaks in their jobs, you should plan for them to have rest breaks. Frequent short breaks are better than fewer long ones.