Workstation assessments for your employees: everything you need to know

If you employ others it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure you reduce any risk to the health and safety of your employees while they are at work. If you don’t, you could be breaching health and safety regulations.

One aspect of employee health and safety legislation is related to display screen equipment (DSE). If your employees use display screen equipment, such as computers or laptops, you need to ensure certain standards are met. Guidelines set out by Government state that businesses of all sizes must carry out workstation assessments to ensure Health and Safety Executive compliance with the HSE (DSE) 1992 Act.

What is the HSE (DSE) 1992 Act?

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 Act is designed to protect employees from the risks associated with the frequent use of Display Screen Equipment (computers and laptops). Frequent use is determined as daily for continuous periods of an hour or more.

Employers who have DSE users must offer workstation assessments to:

  • Assess and reduce risks
  • Ensure controls are in place to prevent health and safety issues
  • Provide information about good working practices and training on the use of equipment
  • Provide eye and eyesight tests on request, and special spectacles if required
  • Review the assessment when the user or DSE changes

For more information on how to comply with the HSE (DSE) AC 1992, see here. If you have many employees using DSEs it may help to consult an ergonomic specialist. They will be able to identify who is covered by the regulations, assess workstation risks and provide training and recommendations for optimum workspace set up.

Why were DSE regulations introduced?

Computer work can cause discomfort and pain in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and hands if the user adopts an awkward posture, repeatedly makes the same movements, or doesn’t vary their posture. Using computers can also cause visual fatigue and discomfort, such as soreness of the eyes and headaches. Chronic pain can also lead to depression.

The DSE regulations were introduced to ensure employers identify the risks associated with the use of display screen equipment and take adequate measures to ensure those risks are sufficiently reduced.

What exactly are workstation assessments?

Workstation assessments look at the whole of an employee’s immediate working environment, including equipment, furniture and working conditions. The assessment also looks at the job being done and any special requirements, such as a disability. The aim is to ensure any workstation is set up correctly to cause the least amount of stress on the body.

When does an employer need to carry out a workstation assessment?

Employers must carry out a workstation assessment when:

  • A new workstation is set up
  • A new employee/user starts work
  • A change is made to an existing workstation
  • A user complains of discomfort or pain

What training and advice do employers have to offer employees?

Employers should ensure employees:

  • Are adopting good posture
  • Know how to adjust chairs and other furniture
  • Are trained to organise desk space to work comfortably
  • Can adjust lighting to avoid glare on the screen
  • Know to take adequate breaks
  • Know how to report problems

Why bother with workstation assessments?

If you think a workstation assessment isn’t necessary, think again. Workstation assessments will protect you from health and safety litigation. As well as being a legal requirement, it has positive benefits for the wellbeing and productivity of your employees. Workstation assessments are ultimately good for business.

Poor workstation set up can significantly increase the risk of musculoskeletal pain and conditions, such as RSI (repetitive strain injuries).

What are the key benefits of a workstation assessment?

  • Reduce risks and protect staff
  • Introduce remedial actions to prevent health problems
  • Empower employees to take ownership of workplace hazards and wellbeing
  • Reduce potential for long-term musculoskeletal health problems
  • Reduce potential for absenteeism from work-related injuries
  • A record of actions and an audit trail to assist if you are involved in any future compensation claims
  • Part of creating a good company culture

What are the minimum workstation requirements?

All workstations should be set up with the following:

  • Appropriate seating that is adjustable to ensure the correct posture can be achieved
  • Stable screen image with well-defined characters and the screen must have adjustable brightness and contrast
  • The work surface must be large enough to ensure all documents and equipment are adequately accommodated
  • The keyboard must be separate from the screen and have a tilt mechanism
  • Additional equipment where required, such as a foot rest or wrist rest
  • Space around the workstation must be sufficient to provide freedom of movement while seated
  • Lighting must be sufficient (either natural or artificial)
  • Noise should not distract the user and create impaired concentration
  • Temperature and humidity of the office environment should be planned with the heat emitted from computer equipment in mind

Users can complete a workstation checklist, as set out by the HSE, to ensure adequate workstation set up.

Workstation assessments aren’t a ‘nice-to-have’, they are a legal requirement. It is your responsibility as an employer to ensure employees can work comfortably without risk.

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