Many of us spend most of our working day at a computer or other display screen equipment (DSE) workstations. Aches and pains through prolonged use of DSE are very common, and if allowed to continue can lead to permanent harm. A few simple adjustments can make you more comfortable and prevent ill health.
The University is required by law to ensure that staff who use computers are trained in their safe use and have their workstation assessed for risk to their health. Staff are also required by law and under the University’s Health and Safety Policy to cooperate with this process by completing the online course and self-assessment.
Staff need to complete the University’s online How We Work at Essex course.
Once you have done the course you need to complete a DSE self assessment form (.doc) and pass it to your
Sitting in the same position for hours is bound to lead to aches and pains. Taking short (5–10 minute) breaks from DSE work will help you to work more efficiently and reduce the risk of harm.
Essex Sport have created this 5 minute video showing a range of chair stretch and mobility exercises that you can do at your desk to keep you active whilst taking a break.
Unsurprisingly people adjust their seat so that their feet are flat on the floor, but for many people this means their arms are too low for the keyboard, resulting in hunched shoulders and leading to neck and shoulder pain. Raise your chair so that your lower arm is level with the middle row of keys with a 90 degree angle at the elbow. Keep your wrists straight and don’t rest your arms or wrists on the desk while using the keyboard. If you can’t rest your feet comfortably on the floor you need a foot rest.
People often suffer from pain in the arm, shoulder or hand they use to hold the mouse. This may be because they stretch their arm to reach the mouse or grip the mouse tightly. Place the mouse close to you, so that it can be used with a relaxed arm and straight wrist. It can help to support your arm lightly on the desk surface. If you still find using the mouse awkward, you could try a different shaped or sized one, or another device such as a trackball. A mini keyboard (ie one that doesn’t have the number pad on the right-hand side) can also be useful, as it will allow you to bring the mouse closer to you.
This is often caused by prolonged use of the computer. Glare on the screen, bright areas (eg windows) in the field of view or a dirty or unclear screen can also lead to eye strain. So take regular breaks, use blinds to shield windows and keep your screen clear. Also, as we get older our eyesight gets worse. You are likely to notice this most when working on the computer. If you use the computer regularly as part of your work you can have an eye test paid for by the University. We will also pay for spectacles if needed for DSE use.
If you are pregnant you will need to review your DSE assessment to incorporate the need for more posture related issues. Find out more about risk assessment for pregnancy.
Over time, as your tummy expands, your sitting position should be monitored to ensure you are maintaining a good sitting posture. You may also need to take more breaks to cope with increased fatigue.
The body shape changes as time progresses, the centre of gravity shifts putting extra strain on back, extra pressure on thighs, legs and tummy under bump.
Backache is common as your baby grows and tummy enlarges forcing you to sit further back from the desk causing problems with reaching and stretching.
Leaning forward puts additional strain on your back and pressure on your thighs and tummy under the bump.
You should re-adjust the chair as your size increases. The seat slide should be in the forward position to support the back of your legs and tilted forwards about five degrees to relieve pressure on your thighs.
The chair back should be tilted slightly back to relieve pressure under your bump. This could place more pressure on the buttocks which should be relieved by regular breaks for exercise. Make sure you maintain good back support.
If available, move to the curve part of the desk which will allow you to get closer to the desk.
This position maintains correct arm and wrist positioning without the need to stretch or lean forward.
If you have to use DSE at home for work, the University has to take reasonable steps to ensure that it is safe. This will depend on how often and how long you have to use DSE at home, and whether there are suitable alternatives.
If you regularly work from home and are spending prolonged periods working on your own computer or a laptop, then the workstation will need to comply with the requirements set out in the lesson on setting out your workstation in the online computer safety course. This may be as simple as providing a mouse or keyboard to use with a laptop, or for more regular homeworkers, providing an adjustable chair for use with a home computer.
You will need to discuss with your manager the reasons why you need to regularly work from home. If it is necessary to work from home, they will need to ensure you have the equipment you need to use your DSE safely. If the homeworking arrangement is informal, and your workstation is unsuitable, you may be advised that home working is not appropriate. The University's work/life balance policy (.pdf) provides further guidance on homeworking.
Additional support for long-term musculoskeletal injuries, muscle or joint problems from computer work, and disabilities is available from the Occupational Health Service. A management referral form (.docx) should be completed and sent to the Occupational Health Office.
There may be the requirement to work from home using a computer. If you need to work from home, you will need to complete an home working risk assessment (.docx) and have the document signed and approved by your Line Manager.
Some advice is available to help you setup and maintain a comfortable posture (.pdf) while using DSE at home.
There is no requirement in law for students to complete a DSE assessment. However you should still follow the good practice outlined in the safe use of DSE guidance sheet (.pdf) and the using a computer leaflet (.pdf) to avoid aches and pains. See also our guidance for pregnant students.
DSE facilitators are staff who have been appointed by your department to help ensure that any actions arising from your DSE self assessment are taken. Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing (WHSW) runs DSE facilitator courses. If you need to attend a course, contact WHSW.