What Are You Staring At?

How To Reduce Health Risks From Computer Use

Picture the scene.

You are at work.

You can hear the scratching of your metal nibbed pen on thick parchment paper.

You stare at the long lines of columns and figures in your thick ledger.

But we no longer have to endure this do we?

Times have moved on. Things are better now!


No more squinting at numbers and words by candlelight on a dim winter’s afternoon in December…

Today you stare (and squint I bet!) at an illuminated screen for hours on end.

Hunched over like an old man, pecking away at your keyboard.

Have things really moved forwards?

office display screens

A recent survey by Vision Direct came up with these facts :

“Our survey involving 2,000 British adults revealed that the respondents spend 4,866 hours a year staring at screens, whether they’re phones, laptops, TVs, gaming devices, or e-readers. That means the average adult spends an astonishing 34 years staring at screens – that’s a significant portion of our lifetimes.”

Today we look at the use of Display Screen Equipment (DSEs) in the workplace, the effects on our health, and some tips to prevent the health risks.

What Exactly Are DSEs?

HSE ( DSE) regulations define them as computer monitors, PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

They could also be portable diagnostic screens or CNC control pads or cathode ray tubes (CRTs)

Who Are Classified As Users?

HSE ( DSE) regulations state everyone who uses these devices for one hour a day is a user.

So I guess that’s most of us!

We use these devices without questioning them.

I am using one right now to write this.

But what effect does the use of these devices have on our health?

What are the health risks associated with DSEs?

The following health risks are well documented

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Poor Posture ( Kyphosis – rounded shoulders – head forward posture)
  • Blurred vision
  • Cramps
  • Backache ( particularly low back pain)
  • Numbness

That’s quite a list and we haven’t scratched the surface.

These conditions hardly make for a creative and productive workforce, do they?

Why should you care whether you are an employer or employee?

Employers first.

You have legal obligations under the HSE ( DSE) Regulations.

Below is a quick summary of what these include:

You can find further detail in the link below.

( source –https://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/index.htm)

Employees do not have a statutory duty as such but have an obvious vested interest in their health and wellbeing at work.

We will detail some tips about how you can minimize discomfort and reduce health risks while working with DSEs below.

Four Tips to Reduce Health Risks When Working With DSEs

1. Access Training

Proper training will include everything you need to think about and do to reduce risks to health. The devil is always in the detail they say. Good training with cover, legal obligations, legislation, best practice and control, and prevention strategies

It will give practical advice on the correct heights for chairs, desks, distances from screens, and adjusting your workstation.

( If you would like to know more about this you can link to our training resources here )

2. Office Lighting – Lux Levels- Optimal Lighting

This is a whole subject on its own but for now, let’s just cover the basics.

Optimal lighting to reduce health risks for working with DSEs would include the following;

  • Overhead lighting -positioning to avoid screen glare
  • Wall illumination
  • Task Illumination
  • Colour temperature ( warm white 2700k – for a relaxing atmosphere -cool white 4000k plus for alertness as a simple guide)
  • LUX levels CIBSIE recommends 500lux for general office work but rising to 750 lux for people working at technical drawings or CAD.
  • Remember many buildings that NOW serve as offices were designed for another use. Lighting and furniture positioning should be optimized for CURRENT use.

Computer desk

3. Make Assessments – Get or Provide Feedback

  • Employers – Are staff experiencing discomfort or problems? Knowing this upfront means you can provide a solution. Don’t wait for complaints to occur.
  • Employees -Is your workstation and environment causing you problems? Is your chair and desk at the right heights?
  • In short, is the working environment optimized or compromised?

4. Take Frequent Breaks – Request an Eye Test if Needed

This seems obvious. But how many of us take frequent breaks from DSE use?

I speak as someone who sits at a screen for hours on end! I work for one hour MAX until I need to stand up, walk around, get outside for a few moments to stretch and move. ( Confession! My trusty exercise band is right by my desk!)

If you suffer from headaches- eye strain, etc, then a simple eye test may reveal the nature of the problem. Early intervention here is the key! Eye tests have come on leaps and bounds over the years and opticians are becoming more well versed in dealing with patients who use DSEs daily.

Ok. You might not be writing with an ink pen on parchment by candlelight.

Times have moved on I know.

Let’s just make sure we are not substituting ‘old problems’ for new ones?

Helpful Resources

Display Screen Awareness Training

Assessing Display Screen Equipment Training

HSE – Display Screen Equipment Information

Conducting a Lighting Survey