When the world was turned upside-down by COVID, many things fell by the wayside –Digital Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments among them. These workstation assessments are required by law for any member of staff using a screen for an hour or more a day to protect them from the risks to physical health of working on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Prolonged sitting and poor workstation layout can be the trigger for musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. If left untreated or unmanaged, they can progress from mild to severe conditions and lead to longer-term physical and mental health problems.
Under The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations, DSE workstation assessments are required whenever an employee starts, and if their workplace or workstation changes – for example if they shift to homeworking or move from a PC to a laptop, as so many did during the pandemic.
But in many cases, assessment programs have either been makeshift or completely neglected for those working from home during the pandemic, leaving millions with homeworking set-ups which could damage their health.
IMPACT OF A POOR SETUP
As Managing Director of Osmond Ergonomics, I have devoted much of my career to providing ergonomics solutions to protect workers’ health, and often to ameliorate damage already done.
I fear we are facing a tsunami of musculoskeletal health issues amongst the population of workers who shifted rapidly to homeworking during the pandemic. Millions of homeworkers will currently be suffering due to inadequate equipment, lack of space, and poor or non-existent training. And while many employers have supplied chairs or the funds to buy them, that may be a waste of money unless the whole setup is reviewed.
Unfortunately, the ‘temporary’ set ups and makeshift arrangements staff adopted have been allowed to continue, as many employers have allowed their risk assessment schedules to drift. Two years down the line, many of those workers are paying the price.
I have seen a number of recurring issues, including:
- Using laptops without a separate keyboard, mouse and screen raiser, with resultant neck and back pain.
- Still using the kitchen or dining table causing hunched shoulders with resultant neck and upper back problems.
- Using dressing tables and ‘desks’ with drawers underneath that prevent any reasonable posture being achieved, regardless of how good the chair is.
Now, as people begin to return to the workplaces and many more companies opt for blended or hybrid working arrangements, this is a moment for employers to take action and stem the tide of health problems.
STEPS FOR IMPROVEMENT
The first step is to carry out DSE assessments of all homeworker setups as well as office setups, as the basis for a holistic approach to their needs and to meet the statutory requirements.
While you can download a straightforward checklist from the Health and Safety Executive website, a better move is to combine this process with training. Stuart Entwistle, Training Manager at Osmond Ergonomics runs regular DSE assessment training courses for employers.
He says: “It’s vital to guide staff through the checklist and at the same time, provide proper guidance on how staff can optimise their workstation. Otherwise, it is just a tick-box exercise that will address none of the important issues.
“We see many people who have been through that initial DSE process but due to poor training, come back with problems that the DSE assessment is meant to resolve. It isn’t enough to just provide the equipment – we also provide the installation and training that staff need to use it properly.
“There is a massive unmet need at the moment. Sorting out those who have developed back aches, neck and shoulder pain, repetitive strain injury and so on used to be more than half of our business but the demand diminished significantly through the pandemic.
“But, since the beginning of 2022, we have observed more employers starting to address the problems arising due to staff being neglected whilst working at home.”
While there is the statutory requirement and an employer’s legal duty of care to consider, that is far from the best reason to invest in assessments and proper workstation equipment.
It is much more about wellbeing. If employees are healthy, happy and engaged, they will be more productive and contribute more. The impact of failing to invest is clear – musculoskeletal disorders are the second most common cause of days lost due to work-related ill health, accounting for 8.9 million in 2019/2020, according to the HSE.
Then there is the all-important matter of retention; with the jobs market as it is now, it is more important than ever for businesses to take care of and keep hold of experienced and valued people. The cost and trouble of replacing them is another major consideration.
It is far better to invest upfront in the right equipment than end up paying for it later, both in terms of your business’ productivity and the cost to your employees’ health and wellbeing.
The big return to the office marks a watershed moment for companies to properly take responsibility for the needs of hybrid and home workers. If you conduct proper risk assessments and act on the findings, you could still prevent the kind of physical health problems which can blight lives and undermine capability and productivity.