Law guide: Workplace

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Safe computer use at work

Safe computer use at work

Safe computer use

Using computers or visual display units (VDUs) as part of your job is unlikely to cause ill-effects. VDUs don't give out harmful levels of radiation and rarely cause skin complaints.

If you do suffer ill-effects, it's likely to be because of the way you're using the computer. For example, you might suffer from strain in the back of the hand due to excessive 'mouse' clicking, or stress or neck ache if you use a VDU without a break for a long time. Problems like these can be avoided by a well-designed workstation and job.

Is your employer responsible?

Under health and safety regulations your employer should:

  • Look at VDU workstations and assess and reduce any risks
  • Make sure that workstations meet safety requirements
  • Plan work so there are breaks or changes in the type of work done
  • Arrange for an eye test if you need one
  • Provide health and safety training and information

These regulations also apply if you're working at home as an employee and using a VDU for a long period of time.

To make sure your work environment is safe, think about the way you use your VDU. If you have concerns, you should report them to your employer or employee safety representative if you have one.

Entitlement to breaks

There is no legal limit to how long you should work at a VDU, but under health and safety regulations you have the right to breaks from work when using a VDU. These don't have to be rest breaks and can be different types of work.

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE and HSENI) suggests it's better to take shorter breaks more often at your workstation than longer breaks and less often (e.g. a 5-10 minute break after 50-60 minutes continuous screen and/or keyboard work is likely to be better than a 15 minute break every 2 hours). But if your job means spending long periods at a VDU (e.g. data input), then longer breaks from your workstation should be introduced.

When working at a VDU, make sure you can sit in a comfortable position, and keep a good posture. Your eyes should be level with the screen. Make sure you have enough space and don't sit in the same position for too long.

If you're disabled, your employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments for you may mean that they will provide you with special computer equipment (or alter existing equipment) to suit your needs. You can also get advice and maybe help with paying for equipment from your local Jobcentre.

Right to a free eye test

If you feel that using a VDU screen is making your eyes tired, tell your employer or employee safety representative.

You have the right to a free eyesight test if you use, or are about to use, a VDU for a large part of your work hours. These must be provided regularly, for example once a year. You can also get a free test if you suffer from visual difficulties that can be reasonably linked to using a workplace VDU.

If you're prescribed glasses to help you work with a VDU, your employer must pay for a basic pair of glasses, provided they're needed especially for your work.

What to do next

Make sure your employer has assessed the risks of your job, paying special attention to computer use.

Make sure any desks and other equipment are comfortable to use and ask your employer if you need special equipment (e.g. wrist rests).

If you have any health problems you think may be caused by your VDU, contact your line manager or safety representative. Your employer has a duty to consult you on health and safety issues that affect you, and should welcome early reporting of any issue.

Where to get help

If you have any concerns about your health and safety, you can:

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