Display Screen Equipment Regulations – Of Historical Interest Only?

Last week, I was dusting down some classnotes about the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992.  Yes, 1992.  This can’t be right, surely.  Frantic internet searching followed… Health and Safety, amendments to Health and Safety?  Quick!  Look at the HSE site and at their leaflet ‘Working with VDUs’ … But, no, the Display Screen Equipment regs stood, supposedly amended in 2002 – but not much!  In fact, hardly at all.

Working with VDUs.  Government leaflet on Display Screen Regulations.

And, Dear Reader, what did they recommend?  Well, you’ve read it all on the ‘Dreaded Lurgy’ page of this blog.  (Of course, you have.)  You know, the little man sitting at his old fashioned desktop computer with the document holder and the footrest.  Bundled with the picture came all the tired advice, about posture at a desk, eyes looking straight across at the screen etc, etc, with just one little paragraph tacked on the end about ‘portables’.  The very word betrayed its vintage.     Although the first page of the HSE leaflet promised much by mentioning ‘laptops, touch screens and other similar devices’ are mentioned on its first page, I couldn’t find any specific advice about using them.

The postures required for these not-so-new devices have to be different, because they’re not the same shapes.  Pretty obvious, really.  The laptop keyboard is flat, not raised as for a desktop keyboard, and its pointer is a touch-pad.  An on-screen keyboard for a tablet different again and pointing techniques involve moving fingers across screens and pressing them.   In my opinion, the most comfortable way to use my laptop is on my lap, with my eyes directed downwards, not just a little but quite a lot – which breaks received health and safety rules.    If, for any reason, I try to use it on a table or desktop, my shoulders start to ache after a very short period.  I use my iPad flat on my lap too, although occasionally I prop it up on its stand on a desk surface at meetings.  I type messages on to my phone any old how, wherever I happen to be – sitting, walking along, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in every position and at every angle.

The Display Screen Equipment Regulations apply only to ‘workers (who) regularly use DSE as a significant part of their normal work’ and the advice in the ‘Working with VDUs’ leaflet is directed at employers who employ such workers.  So how does this affect writers, other than in-house journalists, who are a rare breed nowadays?   The point is that people look to health and safety law for relevant and up-to-date guidance and advice, and we’re not getting it.  Also, many of us work at computers in our day jobs and, if the set-up at work isn’t right, we’re aching and knackered before we start writing in the evening.

Some of the advice given in the Regulations, however, is timeless, the bit about taking breaks, changing activities and reducing stress, but it is not enough.  Come on, HMG, the law needs updating.  Fast.


6 thoughts on “Display Screen Equipment Regulations – Of Historical Interest Only?

  1. Now I tend to lounge with the lap top carefully balanced on my raised knees so that the keyboard is tilted and the screen looks down on me. I wonder what the H&S people would make of that…especially when I have a cat sleeping on my shoulder at the time… 😉

  2. Interesting. And, btw, I normally have a cat sitting on my lap, between me and the computer!

  3. I tend to hand write my work, only using the screen once the first draft has been formulated. Even this will make me achy and sore after a couple of hours, and I’m sat at a desk… I’m such a wimp! Couldn’t work at the computer all day. Starts giving me a headache, too.

  4. Are you using a laptop or desktop, Julie? If a laptop, try using it on your lap. If a desktop, lower the screen. If you have it standing on the box (often called the ‘processor’, even though it isn’t), stand it on the desk surface.

  5. I use a desktop (an Apple iMac) and it does sit on the desk surface. I probably need to address my posture or adjust the height of my chair.

    1. Yes, Julie, I think that’s right. Although, as I’m writing this, I have my cat standing on my knee between me and the computer. What do the Display Screen Regs say about cats, I wonder!

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