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Advice for computer users


Anyone who is a 'user' as defined by the Display Screen Equipment or 'DSE' Regulations, will need to have a risk assessment for their work, and should follow guidelines to avoid pain that can result from incorrect computer use.

Please read the University Occupational Health guidance on computer health here.

All 'DSE Users' (using computers for prolonged periods of more than 4 hours a day) need to complete a DSE Self-assessment Checklist (see this page) and refer any issues to the Departmental Safety Officer. If you are already suffering symptoms that may be related to DSE use, please contact the Departmental Safety Officer. She can also carry out a workstation assessment with you using the checklist, and help determine what type of improvements you need for your workstation.

The departmental guidance below summarizes some of the issues and requirements for DSE users. 

Departmental Guidance

This page contains:

The Risks that Computer Users Face

The most significant risks associated with use of computers are general stress and fatigue to the eyes (which is believed to be temporary) and various musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs) or upper-limb disorders (ULDs).

Temporary visual problems

Visual problems can arise from the size of the characters on the screen and from the distance to the user. Problems arise from using screens for long periods without a break, working in a low humidity environment, continued use of screens at work and out of work, incorrect spectacle lenses for DSE use, and sitting with a computer facing a window.

All modern computer packages allow you to increase the character size, and brightness or contrast on screen so that it can be seen without squinting. Some people may need spectacles specifically for work at DSE, and people with varifocal lenses must ensure DSE use is considered when buying glasses.

Once the issues are addressed, the visual problems should cease - if they don't, please see your optician or GP and notify the Departmental Safety Officer.


Those concerned about exposure to radiation, such as that from Wifi, will find useful information on the Health Protection Agency website here:

In the early days of computing concerns were expressed over the radiation from computers, but extensive research showed there to be no risk from that source. Now, flat screen technology is rapidly replacing the cathode ray tube display units in any event.

Musculo-skeletal problems and upper limb disorders

Various aches and pains in the neck, back and shoulders, as well as in the 'upper limbs' (arms, elbows, hands, wrists) may arise if a poor posture is maintained in the long term. These problems are preventable, and can usually be detected in their early stages but, if ignored, they can lead to serious pain and permanent damage.

Repetitive movements can cause more serious damage. Carpal tunnel syndrome can arise from a rubbing of the tendons against the walls of the carpal tunnels in the wrist, resulting from arms and hands not being correctly held during workstation use. Symptoms may start as tingling and numbness, which are sometimes experienced several hours after work has stopped (e.g. at night). If these symptoms are ignored the condition can progress to the point where surgical intervention may be required.

How to Set up the Work Station

General posture

You should be able to get your legs under the table or work surface - so clear any boxes or other items that get in the way.

You need to arrange that the following angles are 90 degrees:

  • between your back and thighs
  • between your upper arm and forearm

Your legs should not dangle, so if necessary get a foot rest.


You should ensure that you keep your spine erect - habitually leaning can cause shoulder, back and neck problems. To reduce eye strain, keep the screen clean. If there is glare reposition your screen to eliminate it. If you cannot figure out where the glare is coming from, a good trick is to put a mirror against the screen. You will then see the source.

Keep your elbows close to your body and do not lean out to use the mouse.


When you use a mouse, use the whole forearm and hand to move it about - don't bend the wrist from side to side. Ensure that the wrist is not bent in the upward direction - use a rest to raise the level of the arm if necessary. Ensure that whatever mechanism the mouse has, it is kept in good working order.


Good Working Practices

You should not work continuously at the keyboard for long periods of time. Very short breaks, even of a minute, at frequent intervals allow your body to recover from the rather repetitive movements.

There is a short document listing the key points in setting up your workstation and essential good working practices here: User advice

There is also a self-assessment checklist, to help you to identify anything you have not covered.

Entitlement to Eye Tests

"Users" are entitled to eye tests. The term 'User' is given a legal definition in the Regulations; it is an employee who habitually uses display screen equipment as a significant part of his or her normal work.

Typical University examples of users might be: secretarial staff, computing staff, data entry staff in research units, certain administrators, those involved with accounts and data storage, and other scientific, administrative and support staff whose work is computer based. Where use is less frequent other factors connected with the job must be assessed. While there are no hard and fast rules, the Health and Safety Executive suggests that if most or all of the following factors apply to an individual then the person concerned should be classified as a user:

  • The individual depends on the use of display screen equipment to do the job as alternative means are not readily available for achieving the same result.
  • The individual has no discretion as to the use or non-use of the display screen equipment.
  • The individual needs particular skills in the use of display screen equipment to do the job.
  • The individual normally uses display screen equipment for prolonged spells of more than one hour.
  • The individual uses display screen equipment more or less daily.
  • Fast transfer of information between the user and the screen is an important requirement of the job.
  • The performance requirements of the systems demand high levels of attention and concentration by the user, for example, where the consequences of error may be critical.

Scientific, research support and administrative staff who use display screen equipment for relatively short periods each day and have a great deal of discretion over when to do that work would probably not be classified as users.

All requests for eye tests must go through the approved route: initially to the Department Secretary, then to Occupational Health.


If things go wrong, and you experience symptoms, have a look at the 'trouble-shooting guide' in the first instance. If trying one of these tips does not work, then consult a computer officer. There may be some hardware or software that can solve your problem. If none of these helps, then your next port of call is Occupational Health.

This page was last updated on 29 March 2016 to add links to University Occupational Health guidance.