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Most employees will use display screen equipment (DSE) in the workplace as part of their roles. DSE has enabled workers to carry out various tasks, usually in office environments and, more recently, at home. However, even though DSE has benefits, it can also create health risks for users.
Health risks associated with DSE usually occur due to improper use, overuse or poorly designed workstations or working environments. Workers may suffer from backache, upper limb issues and pain, fatigue, mental stress and eye strain.
According to the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) health and safety statistics (2021/2022), there were:
- 1.8 million workers suffering from work-related ill health.
- 722,000 workers suffering from a new case of work-related ill health.
- 30.8 million working days lost due to work-related ill health.
- 477,000 workers suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
– Of the 477,000 workers suffering from a work-related MSD, an estimated 72,000 believed it was caused or made worse by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the main causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders were manual handling, working in awkward or tiring positions and repetitive action or keyboard work.
- 914,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
Even though the statistics do not state DSE, it does mention keyboard work and MSDs. Therefore, these statistics highlight the importance of reducing and controlling the health risks associated with DSE use.
As DSE and workstations can introduce health risks into the workplace, legislation covers their use. By law, employers must perform a suitable and sufficient analysis of DSE users’ workstations to assess the health and safety risks to which they may be exposed, i.e. a DSE or workstation assessment. If employers identify any risks, they must reduce them to the lowest possible level.
Employers can use trained DSE assessors to help carry out workstation assessments, especially if there are many identified users in the workplace. Here, we will look at DSE in further detail and the role of a DSE assessor.
What is DSE?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines DSE as:
“Devices or equipment that have an alphanumeric or graphic display screen and includes display screens, laptops, touch screens and other similar devices.”
DSE is often known as VDUs (visual display units). It also includes PCs, tablets and smartphones.
DSE also considers the whole workstation set-up, which includes:
- The DSE and accessories, e.g. desktop computer, mouse and keyboard.
- Furniture, e.g. desk and office chair.
- Other workstation items, e.g. telephone, disk drive, footrest, document holder, printer and work surface.
- The working environment around the DSE, e.g. space, temperature, lighting, humidity, noise and ventilation.
Workstations and DSE are found in almost every industry but are common in office work, e.g. secretaries, administrators and typists. There has been an increase in home working since the COVID-19 pandemic, so employers must also assess the risks to home workers who are DSE users.
What are the risks associated with DSE?
Incorrectly used DSE or workstations and poorly designed and set up work environments can lead to health problems.
- Musculoskeletal disorders, e.g.:
– Work-related upper limb disorders.
– Repetitive strain injury (RSI) from repetitive tasks.
– Pain in the back, shoulders, neck, arms, elbows, wrists and hands.
- Eye problems, e.g.:
– Dry eye (environmental factors).
– Eye strain (poor lighting).
– Visual disturbances, i.e. blurred vision.
– Note: There is no evidence that DSE can cause damage to someone’s eyesight.
- Other problems, e.g.:
– Stress due to work demands and no breaks from the workstation.
– Fatigue from prolonged DSE use.
These health risks are not unique to DSE work. Using DSE does not mean workers will suffer from the above. However, employers must assess the risks to employees who are DSE users, as they could develop health issues if the hazards are uncontrolled.
What are the laws surrounding DSE?
DSE and workstations come under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992. The regulations place a duty on employers to protect those identified as DSE users.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):
- A worker is classed as a DSE user if they work on DSE daily for continuous periods of an hour or more.
- If a worker only uses DSE occasionally or for short periods, these regulations will not apply.
Users can include the following:
- Those at a fixed workstation.
- Mobile workers.
- Home workers.
- Those hot-desking.
Under the DSE regulations, employers have a duty to:
- Complete a DSE risk assessment.
- Ensure that precautions are in place to reduce the risks to workers’ health and ensure they take breaks from DSE.
- Provide training and information to make a DSE user aware of the hazards and the correct workstation set-up.
- Arrange for eye tests where a user requests one and provide glasses where a need is identified.
- Review the DSE risk assessment if there are any changes or concerns.
There is an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) that can assist duty holders with compliance.
Other laws relating to DSE and workstations include:
- The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 – Employers have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. Employers also have other duties under section 2, e.g. provide and maintain a safe working environment.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – General requirements for risk assessment and health and safety arrangements.
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 – From a workstation perspective, these regulations cover the workstations themselves and workplace environmental factors, e.g. ventilation, temperature, lighting, space, etc.
- The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 – Requires employers to ensure work equipment, such as DSE, is suitable, safe and maintained.
Are DSE assessors a legal requirement?
No, there is nothing in the regulations that specifically state that employers must have DSE assessors. However, by law, employers must assess the health and safety risks to which DSE and workstation users are exposed, i.e. a DSE assessment.
DSE assessments can be carried out by the following, as long as they are suitably trained and competent:
- Health and safety personnel.
- Other in-house staff, e.g. managers.
- Outside expertise, e.g. consultants.
If there are many DSE users in an organisation, employers may employ or hire a competent DSE assessor or train individuals in-house to carry out the specific role.
The training and competency required will depend on the nature of the business, the activities and the complexity of the risks.
Employers can use self-assessments completed by DSE users as a simple initial assessment. However, there must be someone with suitable training and competence to evaluate the results and help with any issues identified.
Benefits of having DSE assessors
Even though it is not essential to have specific DSE assessor roles, there are many benefits, including:
- They can help businesses comply with the law, such as the DSE regulations.
- They can help reduce ill health and injury associated with DSE use and help users understand the causes.
- They can help save businesses money by helping reduce staff absences, sick pay costs, loss of staff and productivity, retraining, compensation claims and enforcement action (fines).
- They can improve worker morale and wellbeing, which can increase productivity.
- They can focus on DSE, freeing up other employees, such as health and safety personnel and managers.
Who can be a DSE assessor?
Employers can train employees to act as in-house DSE assessors, or they can use an external competent organisation or consultant.
Where employers use in-house personnel as trained assessors, they should carry out suitable checks after training to confirm that assessors have understood the information provided and are competent. They could ask the trainer to check a sample of the assessor’s work to check their understanding.
DSE assessors must be familiar with the main requirements of the DSE regulations and must know what the employer expects of them. It is advisable to have a procedure for DSE assessors detailing their roles and responsibilities.
If employers use external organisations or consultants, they must check their competence. They can ask for evidence of qualifications, training and certifications.
What does a DSE assessor do?
DSE assessors have a crucial role in identifying the potential health risks to DSE users and ensuring they use DSE correctly. They also confirm that users’ workstations are set up ergonomically.
Their duties may include the following activities (this list is not exhaustive):
- Identifying those who come under the DSE regulations, i.e. users.
- Identifying hazards associated with the task, workstation layout, environment, equipment, software and individual.
- Assessing the risks from the workstation and DSE work. They can use a checklist or review a DSE user’s self-assessment.
- Involving DSE users and their representatives when assessing the risks and providing feedback to them.
- Accounting for any special needs a DSE user has, such as a disability.
- Using additional information to assist when assessing the risks.
- Putting control measures in place to reduce the risks to the lowest possible level, e.g. sourcing DSE equipment for users’ needs, such as ergonomic chairs.
- Identifying where additional expertise is required, e.g. occupational health.
- Reviewing DSE assessments.
- Providing information, training, advice and guidance to DSE users to help them avoid health risks, e.g. how to adopt a good posture and properly use DSE.
- Investigating any issues, ill health or injuries, e.g. aches and pains, reported by DSE users.
- Ensuring any issues involving DSE are rectified.
The role may also encompass visits to home workers and assessments of shared workstations, such as hot desks.
DSE assessors must always know the limit of their competency and ask for further expertise if they cannot fulfil their duties or have a complex situation beyond their expertise.
What training do DSE assessors need?
Firstly, DSE assessors will need a good understanding of the main requirements of the DSE regulations and associated legislation, so any training will need to cover the law.
Training should also cover the following (this list is not exhaustive):
- DSE assessor responsibilities.
- Local policies and procedures.
- Hazard identification and risk assessment.
- How health issues and injuries can occur, including spine anatomy, and how to reduce the risks.
- How to use the findings from the risk assessment to look at solutions and control measures to reduce the risks.
- Suitable equipment and how to adjust it.
- How to tackle any issues that DSE users cannot solve.
- How to clearly record the significant findings of the assessment.
- How to communicate the risk assessment findings to DSE users and others who need to take appropriate actions, e.g. managers.
- How to review self-assessments or checklists completed by DSE users.
- When to ask for additional help and where to go for it.
Anyone acting as a DSE assessor must receive training appropriate to their role and responsibilities. They should also receive refresher training to ensure they remain competent.
DSE assessor training can be conducted externally or in-house as long as the person delivering it is competent.
What personal qualities do DSE assessors need?
Training is only one part of being a DSE assessor. It is also crucial that anyone acting as a DSE assessor has the right personal qualities for the role.
Which may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Knowledge and understanding of the DSE regulations and other relevant laws.
- Knowledge of different DSE equipment and ergonomics.
- Knowledge of basic anatomy and health issues.
- Hazard identification and risk assessing skills.
- Technical and analytical skills.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- IT skills.
- Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written.
- Investigation skills.
- An interest in people and helping them to prevent ill health and injury.
- The ability to build relationships, rapport and trust.
- The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to train, teach, instruct and engage people at all levels.
- The ability to write reports.
- Excellent attention to detail.
A good DSE assessor will have a combination of the right personal qualities, training and competence.
Improper use of DSE, overuse and poor workstation set-up can increase the risk of health issues and injuries for DSE users. Employers have a legal duty to protect workers from the health risks of working with DSE. If they do not comply, they may face enforcement notices and prosecution.
Employers can use DSE assessors to help them comply with the law. DSE assessors have an important role in preventing, reducing and controlling the risks associated with DSE use.
Even if an employer decides not to have specific DSE assessor roles within the business, they must ensure they have someone trained and competent to identify the hazards and assess the risks to DSE users. They should contact an external consultant for advice if they do not have appropriate in-house expertise.
DSE assessors must understand their roles and responsibilities and what the business expects of them. They must have appropriate training that is regularly refreshed and assessed.
Why not take our ROSPA-approved DSE Assessor Training to learn more about DSE and the assessor’s role?