Many employees are required to use display screen equipment (computer screens) as part of their working day.
Specific regulations exist which cover the use of computer screens or DSE.
- users must be provided with regular eyesight checks;
- work stations must meet minimum physical size requirements;
- users must be given adequate training in the use of the workstation;
- users must not be required to work using a screen for a long period without a break for another activity.
A display screen user is described by the regulations as an employee who 'habitually uses display screen equipment as a regular part of her/his work'.
All employees are covered by the regulations irrespective of whether they work full-time or part-time or how long they have worked for the employer.
Employers should make arrangements for DSE users to have regular eyesight tests which should be carried out by a registered ophthalmic optician or a registered medical practitioner, and the employer should pay for the test.
The results of the eyesight test will be sent to the employer and the employee sent a copy.
If the test shows an employee needs to have their eyesight corrected by, for example, wearing glasses in order to use DSE safely the employer must pay for these.
The regulations say the employer must pay for basic correction, but if the employee wants more than this, ie more expensive frames or contact lenses, the employer must pay a contribution equivalent to the basic correction.
DSE work stations must meet certain requirements.
The display screen must have well defined characters of adequate size. The image must be stable and it should be easy to adjust the brightness and contrast.
The screen should be easy to tilt and swivel and there should be no reflective glare. The keyboard should be separate from the screen and should be tiltable with space in front of it.
The work surface should have a low-reflecting surface and should give adequate space. The work chair should be stable and comfortable; the seat should be height adjustable; the seat back should be adjustable.
Seating position should allow elbows to assume 90 degree position; wrist support may be required. Footrests should be available. Lighting should provide contrast between screen and background and prevent glare.
The positioning of the screen must be such that there is no reflection from, for example, a window.
All employers must provide DSE users and employees who are about to become DSE users with adequate health and safety training on the equipment's use.
Employers must give adequate breaks to employees who are using DSE or ensure that they may work on other activities away from the screen so that the employee does not have to spend the whole working day facing the screen.
There is no legal limit to how long an employee should work with a display screen but an employee will need to break up long spells of DSE work.
The regulations require breaks or changes of activity but do not specify their timing or length.
However, guidance on the regulations provides some general principles. For example, frequent breaks are better than longer, less frequent ones.
Further information on health and safety with regard to the use of display screen equipment is available from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or from the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland on its freephone help line 0800 0320 121 or via its website www.hseni. gov.uk.
Lucy Cochrane is an information and policy officer with Citizens Advice.