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Office Workstations – An Ergonomic Problem

Being an ‘office worker’ myself I was surprised to see in the news that ‘badly setup desks and chairs cost companies more than £7 billion a year in sick pay’ according to one study.  That is a staggering amount of money and it’s clear that many employers haven’t learned the lessons from employees seeking compensation for a variety of illnesses which range from lower spinal displacement, migraines and on some occasions anxiety and depression.  These incidents have led to time off work, often prolonged absences, and the cost to the employer is significant.

Some employees argue that that they work in a ‘sick office’ where they feel generally unwell for much of the time and for some it has led to them leaving their job.  Other employees complain about not being supplied with essential desk equipment including very low numbers using ergonomic back support.  Other examples include the wrong furniture at the wrong height, or the wrong shape for the room and many end up rearranging their workspace to get comfortable.  A significant number of employees declare that that they have never had a Risk Assessment carried out on their workstation in the previous 12 months despite this being a legal requirement.

Employers should be following the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992 but they only apply to employers whose workers regularly use DSE, i.e. computers or laptops, as a significant part of their normal work, daily for continuous periods of an hour or more.  These workers are known as DSE users.  However these Regulations do not apply to workers who use DSE infrequently or for short periods of time.

It is important to look at the layout of your workstation to assess and reduce risks.  Providing the right desks, chairs, footrests and computer equipment are essential as is proper training, eyesight tests on request, and special spectacles if needed.  Regulations do change – so employers need to keep up to date and carry out a Risk Assessment when the user or the DSE changes.  There are some simple changes that you can make to improve your workstation which should include:

  • Ensuring that your forearms are approximately horizontal and the keyboard is placed so that your upper arms hang vertically.
  • Adjusting the height of your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor or use a footrest.
  • Making sure that there is adequate space under your desk to move your legs.
  • Positioning your monitor so that the centre is at eye level and avoid glare or bright reflections.
  • Making sure there is enough work space to accommodate all your equipment.  Using a document holder may help avoid awkward neck and eye movements.
  • Adjusting curtains or blinds to prevent intrusive light.

Whilst there is a legal responsibility on employers to ensure that these regulations are followed, employees could also help themselves by being more proactive.  Asking your employer for help with your workstation set-up could make a significant improvement to your working day because going home exhausted and stressed just because your office desk isn’t right and will inevitably impact on your personal life – and who needs that! Of course if employers ignore the DSE Regulations, and ignore genuine requests from their staff to improve their workstations, then illness, sickness and time off work are going to be the result – as will the inevitable litigation which impacts financially on the employer.

Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can offer advice to anyone who suffers a personal injury whilst at work.  Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website
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