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Health and safety when working with display screen equipment (DSE)

Working with display screen equipment (DSE) introduces employees to unique health and safety risks which can cause physical pain, fatigue and eye strain. Read this guide to learn how employers and employees can fulfil their DSE related health and safety responsibilities.

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‘Display screen equipment’ (DSE) refers to electronic devices with screens, such as PCs, laptops, smartphones and other monitors. DSE introduces unique risks to employees’ health. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 introduce legal requirements that employers must meet to fulfil the health and safety-related duty of care that they owe their employees. 

Who are DSE users?

Employees are classified as ‘DSE users’ if they regularly use DSE for continuous periods of 1 hour or more during their work. An employee is not a DSE user if they only occasionally use DSE, even if when they do use it they do so for periods of 1 hour or more.   

Employers must consider risks associated with DSE use for their employees who work: 

  • at fixed workstations

  • remotely or from home

  • across multiple locations (ie mobile workers)

  • following a hot-desking model (eg in a coworking space or office)

Employers are required to:

  • carry out DSE workstation assessments for each employee’s workstation (eg their desk and computer set-up) to identify any risks the workstation poses

  • make and carry out plans to minimise or eliminate the risks identified during workstation assessments

  • provide free eye tests and (sometimes) glasses for DSE using employees 

  • provide their employees with training and information on how to work safely with DSE

  • ensure employees are aware of all health and safety provisions (eg how their workplace’s free eye tests and glasses programme works) 

Employers should ensure that, when fulfilling these responsibilities, they consider their employees as unique individuals. Risk management should be tailored to any specific needs. For example, an employee may have a disability which means that they need a certain kind of support to be able to work safely with DSE. Read Disability and reasonable adjustments for more information.

Employees have a responsibility to care for their own health and safety at work (including when they are working from home). They must also ensure that they don’t do anything to put others’ health and safety at risk. 

To achieve this, employees should follow all health and safety training and guidance that their employer gives them. They should also make their employer aware of any risks or issues (eg eye strain or back pain) as soon as possible.

A workstation assessment is an analysis carried out on a DSE user’s working situation to find out if it poses any risks to the user’s health and safety. For example, does an employee’s chair inadequately support their back, putting them at risk of back pain? Does glare from screens and windows consistently get in an employee’s eyes, exposing them to the risk of eye strain and fatigue?

Workstation assessments should be carried out when: 

  • new workstations are set up (including at employee’s homes if they are working from home)

  • new employees start work, or existing employees become DSE users

  • a workstation is modified

  • a DSE user notifies their employer that they’re experiencing pain or discomfort which may be related to DSE use

A workstation assessment should include: 

  • analysis of the workstation’s set up including the furniture, DSE and other equipment, and other working conditions (eg are heat and noise levels appropriate?) 

  • consideration of the work the employee does (eg do they work long hours and always use DSE?)

  • consideration of any special requirements an employee has which may mean reasonable adjustments are necessary for reducing risk

Employees can be asked to complete a self-assessment of their workstations as a starting point, but ultimate responsibility for ensuring checks are correctly carried out will always lie with the employer. Often, an employer will nominate a specific person or people to hold responsibility for workstation assessments. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a checklist template which can be used to help with workstation assessments. For more information on requirements for workstation assessments, read the HSE guidance.

Once DSE related risks to health and safety have been identified, employers must carry out plans to reduce them. Key ways of reducing risks include:

  •  encouraging employees to take breaks, and ensuring that their schedules allow for adequate breaks

  • encouraging employees to vary their work tasks (eg by taking breaks from DSE tasks to attend meetings or brainstorm on paper)

  • encouraging and teaching employees to stretch and maintain good posture

  • ensuring that employees have the correct furniture, equipment and computer programmes for DSE purposes (eg by carrying out a workstation assessment) 

It can help to create a Health and safety policy which includes provisions for DSE use. This usually sets out an employer’s plans for reducing risk and assigns responsibility for actioning these plans.

Eye tests

Employers must provide DSE user employees with free eye tests and, if required, glasses to allow them to work safely with DSE. The test must be a full eye and eyesight test including a vision test and eye exam. It must be performed by a suitably qualified optometrist or doctor. Eye tests should be provided: 

  • when an employee first becomes a DSE user, or if someone is being recruited to become a DSE user

  • when an employee requests an eye test

  • if an employee is experiencing visual difficulties which may be related to DSE use

  • at regular intervals after the first eye test, following the optometrist or doctor’s recommendations 

Employers can choose whether they or their employees are responsible for arranging the tests, and whether they are paid for using a voucher scheme or by requiring employees to pay initially before they are reimbursed for the costs. 

Glasses

If an eye test determines that an employee needs glasses, their employer only needs to pay for them if the employee requires them only for DSE use (ie they are prescribed specifically for the distance that the screen is viewed at). Only basic lenses and frames (ie which are sufficient for the employee to safely do their job, no more) must be paid for.  

In some cases, bifocal or varifocal prescriptions may be considered necessary for allowing an employee to do their job. In such cases, these must be paid for by the employer. This could apply if the employee has to focus on things at different distances whilst doing DSE work and they need glasses for both distances (eg if they talk to clients sitting across from them whilst using DSE). 

Employers may choose to let employees get glasses which meet other needs. In such situations, they would only be required to pay for the costs attributable to the DSE related job needs.

Employers must make training and information available for DSE users. There is no finite list of required training, but training may cover:

  • maintaining good posture

  • adjusting equipment, furniture and workstation arrangements to reduce risks

  • adjusting screen settings (eg brightness or magnification) to make screens easier to read

  • when breaks and activity changes should be taken

  • exercises for the body and eyes which can reduce pain, strain and fatigue

  • how employees can carry out their own risk assessments 

  • the procedures for reporting any issues related to DSE use

 

For more information on workplace health and safety obligations, read Health and safety and Employer health and safety responsibilities for staff working from home. To help meet your obligations as an employer, create a Health and safety policy.

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