Employers, what are your responsibilites?

Computers: an introduction to the problems.

What can happen to your employees ?

When people first begin to experience symptoms due to RSI they are unsure of what is happening to them. The symptoms initially can be quite mild twinges with a bit of numbness or tingling. However as the condition develops the pain increases until it is with the person for 24 hours, leading to weeks on end of pain and disability, reality sets in, usually confirmed by doctor’s diagnosis.

The Employer
In the event of Repetitive Strain Injury symptoms being experienced, there are various strategies that need to be implemented. Reasons for ignoring RSI can include fear of disclosure and keeping the accident book “tidy”, seeking to avoid potential litigation, embarrassment and guilt at having caused someone to become ill, which affects the image of the company, annoyance and irritation because targets are not being met, thereby inviting criticism from a higher tier of management.

Acknowledge the Situation
Employers should be unafraid to admit there is a problem, as ignoring RSI does not make it go away but makes things worse. Evidence of good practice within the workplace could be a way of keeping down insurance premiums. Certainly frequent legal claims are one way of increasing insurance premiums.

Taking Action
Encourage workers to report pain and record it. Body mapping is a useful tool showing where pain and inflammation are occurring. Encouraging the worker to seek effective diagnosis and treatment, pursue a pain management programme, and consider alternative therapies, is the way forward.

It is important to note that working over the pain can cause further damage, the more chronic the condition the longer it takes to make a recovery, therefore the correct balance must be found.

Conduct an effective risk assessment in consultation with the worker, looking at equipment, workload and stress. Just issuing a questionnaire to the worker is a useless exercise. The workstation needs to be observed and measurements taken, as well as posture being assessed, talking to the worker about any problems with equipment and posture, and about the volume of work expected to be undertaken.

Back to Work
When someone is on the road to recovery it can be conducive to their physical and mental state to embark on a gradual return to work, with shorter hours increasing gradually. This rehabilitative approach means that some of their work is being done, a valued and knowledgeable employee can be retained, and there is some financial benefit to both employer and employee. This may indicate a need for sickness absence policies to be rewritten, taking into account state benefits and salary payment.

Encourage “open channels” between worker, line manager, senior management, occupational health professionals, and human resources officer. Each one of these has an important role to play, together with a helpful and supportive attitude from colleagues.

If trades union membership is established within your organisation learn from trades union safety representatives. A unionised workplace is a healthy workplace, a healthy workplace saves money. Be aware of the dangers and educate yourself and your staff by encouraging a positive health and safety culture within the organisation.

Who Can Help
There are many organisations that are able to help in this day and age. The Department of Work and Pensions’ Disabilities Adviser can arrange for the provision of an ergonomic assessment and equipment, and funding to pay for a support worker to assist the injured person. A wealth of advice is available from the Health and Safety Executive, and various web sites on the Internet. RSI help-lines are for people with RSI, their families and also for employers.

Costs to the Employer
Costs to the employer include lost salary, lost productivity via absence of a knowledgeable employee, additional salary costs for temporary employees, legal and medical specialist fees in the event of litigation, and increased insurance premiums caused by litigation.

Computers: an introduction to the problems.

Many jobs involve working with computers for long periods of time, but it is important that you sit in a way that does not harm your arms, back, hands, shoulders or neck. Your employer should help prevent discomfort and injury by ensuring your work station is set up properly.

If you get aches or pains you should tell your supervisor and/or your union representative. You can avoid serious injury by taking action when you notice a problem, although it’s better to prevent injuries before they begin. There are simple steps that can be taken to stay healthy while working with a computer.
Setting up the workstation safely

Under the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations, employers must minimise the risks of working with computers by making sure that workplaces are well designed and that workers know how to reduce risks.

Employers must:

- carry out a risk assessment of the workstation;
- provide properly set up computer workstations;
- organise your work so that health and safety risks - are minimised;
- provide training, information and guidance to computer users;
- provide a free eye and eyesight test and pay for glasses if they are needed for DSE work.

You can reduce the risk of injuries by:

- using your workstation correctly;
- taking regular breaks from the screen;
- adjusting your chair height to fit your workstation;
- reporting any injuries, such as eye strain or pain in the hands, arms or neck.

Computer screens (visual displays / monitors)

Problems caused by computer screens – also called visual display units (VDUs), monitors or display screen equipment (DSE) – are usually the result of improper use, rather than the screen itself.

There is no evidence that screens damage eyes, but long periods of working at a computer screen can cause discomfort. You must ensure the size of text and images on the screen are the right size for you and take regular breaks.

Injuries that may be caused by working with computers.

If your workstation is not set up properly, you may suffer from headaches caused by screen glare or bad posture.

Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) – also called repetitive strain injury (RSI) – occur when computer users get aches, pains and disorders after long periods of working with a computer.

Laptop computers.

Some jobs require employees to use computers outside of the office, so a laptop computer may be provided. Because of their small size it can be hard to establish a good fit between the worker and the laptop. This makes it more difficult to maintain good posture.

Carrying a laptop also increases back injuries and the risk of attack and theft, so it’s better to use a desktop computer whenever possible.

What can your employer do?

All employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The Display Screen Equipment regulations also require employers to perform a suitable risk assessment of computers – even for flexible and home workers – and take steps to control risks.

Negotiate a policy for working with computers. Refer to union guides for advice.

Make sure that risk assessments are thorough and correct. Safety reps have rights under the management regulations to be consulted by their employers about anything affecting members’ health and safety, including new technology.

Make sure that members are provided with training and information on how to use their VDU equipment and workstation safely.

Make sure that members know about their legal right to eye and eyesight tests.

Key facts

- Many jobs involve working with computers for long periods of time. It is important that you sit in a way that does not cause back problems and take regular screen breaks to prevent eye strain.

- Computers in the workplace should be assessed using risk assessment procedures.

- A poorly set-up workstation can lead to discomfort, back pain, work-related upper limb disorders or repetitve strain injury.

- DSE regulations suggest a 5-10 minute screen break or change of activity every hour.










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