In this ever increasingly digitally driven world, more and more of us use a computer or VDU’s (Visual Display Units) as part of our working day. Though many of us are unaware of the possible health and safety risks involved with the increased use of computers, and even fewer are aware of how to prevent them.
The computer or VDU themselves aren’t harmful, they don’t give out radiation of a level to be harmful or anything like that, it is more our use of them that can be the problem. Extended use of a mouse or keyboard can lead to discomfort in the hands and wrists, poor posture can cause pain in backs and necks. However, with a little thought in to the setup of your desk and how you use your workstation, most of these problems can be avoided.
Although there is a certain onus on the employer to ensure that your workstation is set up so not to cause you pain or long-term harm, it isn’t solely their responsibility. Once they have assessed the workstation to ensure it does meet health and safety requirements, made provision for any training and breaks you might require and provided you with an eye test should you need one – there is little more they can or need to do.
There is much you can do to help yourself however, from thinking about where you position the most frequently used objects on your desk to avoid constant twisting and stretching, to the position you sit in.
You should make yourself familiar with the adjustments you can make to your chair, and should ensure your back is supported, that your knees are level with your hips – and where possible your feet should be flat on the floor. Don’t cross your legs at your desk as this could reduce your circulation with the potential to cause hip problems.
Your screen should ideally be placed approximately 30-75cm away from your eyes with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. If needs be, you can ask for a monitor stand to raise the level of the screen. Also try to minimise the glare on your screen to help avoid eyestrain, pull any blinds if you have glare from windows behind you, tilt the screen to help cut out reflection from over head lighting, but remember even adjusting the contrast and brightness settings on your monitor could make a huge difference.
If you use the phone a lot during the course of your day, consider switching from a handset to a headset, and you should resist the urge to cradle the phone against your shoulder as this can cause strain in your neck muscles.
When using a keyboard or mouse, your wrists should be kept straight, you may need to use a wrist support to achieve this but they aren’t expensive and are useful to help guard against future health issues. You should also keep your keyboard and mouse as near to your body as possible, ideally your elbows should be vertically below your shoulders and your arms should rest comfortably by your sides.
In addition to giving your posture some thought, you can also make sure you take regular breaks from the VDU, a short walk to get a drink of water or a change of job (maybe do some of that long neglected filing) are all it would take to rest your eyes for a short while. If you don’t wish to leave your desk, make sure you stretch periodically to ease muscles that have been in one position for a while.
If you feel that your workstation is uncomfortable you should approach your employer and ask that they do whatever is reasonable to ensure your comfort, if they refuse and you subsequently develop an injury through the use of computers, you should contact either your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a solicitors who specialises in Personal Injury law for advice.