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Homeworking and display screen equipment (DSE) health

OH3 - Your Trusted Occupational Health Provider

Homeworking DSE health

Are you working from home? It is important to maintain correct display screen equipment (DSE) use, even while working from home, to prevent future health problems occurring. Read our blog here for a helpful guide.

Due to the current coronavirus (COIVD-19) pandemic, home working has seen a huge and unprecedented increase. The ONS reported that during the first wave of the pandemic in the UK, 49% of workers reported working from home at some point in the seven days to up 14 June 2020. This represents a massive increase on previous figures and is likely to continue indefinitely. Although this trend is a positive step towards preventing the spread of the pandemic, this could also have hidden consequences for employee health. This is in the form of ill health effects presenting as a result of incorrect display screen equipment (DSE) uses whilst working at home. Our blog article here lists easy and helpful ways that employees can ensure correct DSE use whilst working from home.

Even if employees are no longer office based and are working from home as a result of the pandemic, employers must still conduct DSE workstation assessments in accordance with the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992. The training provided should include advice on how to arrange their work station safely and the actions to take if the employee develops any work-related health problems. Problems that can arise if the work-station is not set up correctly are neck ache, headaches, back and shoulder pain, vision problems and wrist and arm pains.

Employees should take regular breaks from DSE work or do a different task. As employees work from home this can be difficult as natural breaks in the work day such as; going to printer, getting up to chat with a colleague or answering the phone on the other side of the office would not happen from home. However, this does not stop the fact that even work from home should be planned to allow breaks or at least changes of activity for employees who are display screen equipment (DSE) users.

It is advised that employees take short breaks often, rather than longer ones less often. Ideally, five to ten minutes every hour doing another task is better than twenty minutes every two hours, but these may not be possible in every job. It is recommended that users should be able to choose when to have a change of activity or posture. Ways to do this could be in the form of getting up to get a glass of water or cup of tea every so often. In most jobs it is possible to stop DSE work to do other tasks, however, if there are no natural changes of activity in a job, you may have to remind yourself to take a short break using alarms or reminders every so often. Breaks or changes of activity should allow users to get up from their workstations and move around, or at least stretch and change posture. This can help prevent a whole range of problems, from back pain, to difficulties with eyesight.

Employers must provide an eye test if a worker asks for one, even if the worker is now primarily based at home due to the pandemic. Incorrect DSE use can have a detrimental impact on health such as headaches, eye strain, neck disorders, dry eyes and possibly eyesight issues. However there are some easy steps that a homeworker can follow to ensure that working around display screen equipment at home does not have a negative impact on health.

A homeworker should take the following steps to minimise the risks of harm from DSE equipment:

  • Make sure the screen is clean and cleaning materials are available at home to clean dust and dirt that gathers on screens
  • If the text size is not especially comfortable to read on screen, software settings may need adjusting to change text size, to make reading digitally easier
  • If the image on screen is not very stable (free of flicker and jitter), try using different screen colours to reduce flicker, e.g. darker background and lighter text
  • If the screen’s specification doesn’t seem suitable for its intended use, for example intensive graphic work or work requiring fine attention to small details may require large display screens
  • Swivel and tilt need not be built in; it is possible to add a swivel and tilt mechanism. However, you may need to replace the screen if: swivel/tilt is absent or unsatisfactory; work is intensive; and/or you have any problems getting the screen to a comfortable position
  • The brightness and contrast do not have to be adjustable for your computer screen while working at home, but if they are you can try changing them optimally for yourself to get the best configuration that is easiest for your eyes

It is important to remember that incorrect use of DSE or poorly designed work stations or work environments can lead to pain in the neck area, shoulder, back, arms wrists and hands as well as fatigue. The causes may not always be obvious. A tilted keyboard is recommended but will not necessarily be built in. Consider checking to see through if there are inbuilt feet which can be pulled out from the base of the keyboard to create better tilt, this will relieve pressure on your wrists. If you struggle to find room to place your hands on the desk, try pushing the display screen further back to create more room for the keyboard, hands and wrists. The thickness of your keyboard may be different from others. Users of thick, raised keyboards may need a wrist rest but standard ones are most users usually don’t require one.

When hitting the keys, try not to use too much force which can apply strain on our hands, you should also try to avoid hands bend up at the wrist and hitting the keys too hard as well as overstretching the fingers. Wherever possible, try to use a keyboard with a matt finish to reduce glare or reflection.

A mouse and trackball are general-purpose devices suitable for many tasks, and available in a variety of shapes and sizes. If the device seems too far away or a bit of a stretch, most devices are best placed as close as possible, e.g. right beside the keyboard. Do try to; prevent overreaching, not to leave your hand on the device when it is not being used, have a relaxed arm and a straight wrist. Support can be gained from, for example, the desk surface or arm of a chair. If not, a separate support device may be help. The user should be able to find a comfortable working position with the device. If you device doesn’t work very smoothly check that the work surface is suitable. A mouse mat may be needed.

Finally, the optimal position is to have your forearms and hands horizontal with your upper arms hanging vertically down from your shoulders, rather than reaching forward too far, which can cause strain. The back should be vertical with knees bent and your lower legs vertical too, with your feet flat on the floor. Some people are more comfortable leaning slightly back which is fine. If leg length is shorter not allowing the feet to be placed flat on the floor, consider using a footstool.

We hope that you have found this blog post informative and insightful. Preventing poor use of display screen equipment DSE now will have a positive impact on the occupational health of employees working from home. Wide spread home working is having a positive effect on the health of employees and the general public by reducing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), but if this is done with poor DSE use practises, then the health of employees will be suffering in the long term, with impacts on eyesight coupled with wrist, back and neck issues alongside increased fatigue.

OH3’s e-learning course is designed to give your employees the skills and knowledge on how to use workstations correctly and safely in order to minimise the health and safety risks associated with incorrect use.

It takes 30-40minutes to complete and encourages your employees to make adjustments to their DSE workstation as they take part. The completed online assessment is reviewed by an occupational health nurse advisor who has completed training in ergonomic DSE assessment. The company is then issued with a certificate of e-learning for each employee who completes the course. Employees who identify that they are experiencing problems such as frequent headaches/back ache or wrist pain whilst using their computer at work will be followed up with a telephone consultation by the nurse. In some cases an onsite ergonomic assessment may be recommended. OH3 can arrange this with one of our specially trained staff. Full ergonomic DSE onsite assessments can be arranged for employees who have identified health issues if this is required.

For more information, contact OH3 at enquiries@oh3.co.uk you can read about our DSE (Display Screen Equipment) services for your team and colleagues by following the link here to see our Occupational Health Services for Organisations. if you would like to contact us to request these occupational health services for you company you can use our Quote Request facility.