Working with computers

The law relating to health and safety issues for work with computers is contained in the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, which define a 'user' as an employee who habitually uses display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work.

The following information can also be downloaded as a factsheet using the link on the right-hand side of this page.

Though education staff are not usually working at a computer all day, the introduction of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time and the electronic marking of examinations have resulted in increased use of computers.

There are health problems associated with working with computers, which include repetitive strain injury, eye strain, back pain and stress.

Risk assessment

The regulations require employers to carry out a risk assessment of users' workstations, which should consider the entire workstation, including equipment and furniture, as well as the work environment, eg lighting, temperature and leg room. The tasks that are being performed at the work station should be considered as should any special needs of individual staff.

Display screen equipment (DSE) risk assessments should also consider those factors that may contribute to repetitive strain injuries such as:

  • sitting in the same position for a long period

  • awkward positioning of the wrist and hand in relation to the keyboard

  • high workload for a prolonged period of time

  • excessive use of the mouse.

Checklist for workstations

The DSE Regulations detail the minimum standards for workstations, which are summarised below.

The display screen

This should:

  • display well-defined characters of adequate size and spacing

  • have a stable image

  • have easily adjustable brightness and contrast

  • tilt and swivel easily to suit the user

  • be free from glare and reflections

  • use a separate base for the screen, or an adjustable table.

The keyboard

This should:

  • be tiltable and separate from the screen to allow the user to adopt a comfortable working position

  • have a space in front to provide support for the hands or arms of the user

  • have a matt surface

  • have clearly legible symbols on the keys.

The work surface

The work surface should:

  • provide adequate space for the user

  • have a low reflective surface

  • be of adequate size to allow the screen, keyboard, etc to be flexibly arranged

  • have a stable, adjustment document holder, which should be at the same level as the screen and at the same viewing distance.

The work chair

This should have a seat that is adjustable in height, with a seat back adjustable in height and tilt. A footrest should be available.

The workstation/environment

The workstation must do the following:

  • provide sufficient space for the user or the operator to alter position comfortably

  • lighting must be adequate with suitable contrast between the screen and background

  • glare and reflections on the screen should be avoided

  • windows should be fitted with adjustable coverings to alter the daylight level.

When a workstation is shared by more than one person, it should be assessed in respect of each person.

Schools and colleges should consult their safety reps on all matters concerning work with computers.

Training in using computers

Employers are obliged to provide information and training on the health and safety aspects of working with computers. This should cover:

  • the importance of good posture, changing position and good keyboard technique

  • how to avoid glare or bright reflections in the screen

  • cleaning and adjusting the screen

  • the importance of frequent short breaks

  • using a mouse

  • health risks

  • who to report symptoms to or to contact for help

  • information about the right to eyesight tests.

Eye tests

Under the regulations, users have a right to eye sight tests upon starting computer work and at regular intervals thereafter, at the employer's expense. Where tests show that the user requires special spectacles/lenses for computer work, the employer must pay for the cost of a basic pair.

Laptop computers

The work of laptop users should be properly assessed. As some laptops can be heavy, the assessment ought to include the risk of manual handling (ie lifting and carrying).

Laptops should be used in proper workstations and not on one's lap, especially if large amounts of data need to be inputted. As prolonged use is likely to cause ergonomic problems, it is even more important for users to take regular breaks, position themselves correctly, flex their arms, etc.

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.

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