A large number of people will find that they spend a majority of their working day in front of a computer screen. In the third instalment in our health and safety at work series, we will be looking at safe computer use at work.
The majority of people who use computers for their work will suffer no side-effects as a result, but it is still important that they know how to avoid any risks as prevention is better than cure. Good planning of workstations can help reduce the likelihood of suffering from aches and pains in hands, wrists, necks and shoulders. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland has issued guidance which states that regular breaks should be taken away from computer screens or keyboards. As a rough guide, the guidance recommends a break of 5-10 minutes after an hour of continuous screen or keyboard use. These breaks do not have to be ‘rest breaks’, but can include time away from the computer doing other tasks.
You can minimise any risks by:
- Ensuring that you sit in a comfortable position, and keep a good posture. This may require a sturdy, adjustable chair.
- Eyes should be kept level to the computer screen.
- Ensuring that you have enough space to work comfortably.
- Avoiding glare from the computer screen.
- Having enough room under your desk or workstation to move your legs.
- Positioning the mouse and keyboard within easy reach.
- Making sure that the workstation is well-lit.
- Taking regular breaks away from the computer.
Employees may have a right to a free eye test if they use, or soon will use, a computer for a large part of their work. Employees should speak to their employers about this if they think that it might apply to them. Employees should also speak to their employers if they think that they could benefit from special equipment, for example wrist rests. Employers should provide training to minimise health and safety problems around computers and workstations.
If you use a laptop for your work, you can make using it more comfortable by, for example, using a docking station and keeping the screen opened at eye level. Again, frequent breaks away from the laptop are recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. If you use a laptop for long periods of time, you could consider using a separate keyboard and mouse to ease tension in your neck and shoulders.
For more information on health and safety at work, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or the Health and safety Executive at HSENI.gov.uk. Further guidance can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk.
Sian Fisher is an Information Officer with Citizens Advice.