Health and Safety requirements when using smartphones, tablets and other devices

Peninsula Team

March 11 2014

The Health and Safety (Display Screens Equipment) Regulations 1992 impose requirements concerning the use of computer equipment, workstations, seating and eye tests. The regulations are intended to minimise the risks of work related upper limb disorders, bad backs, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome in particular, and of sight related health issues. The definition of display screen equipment (DSE) in the regulations is simply that it is “any alphanumeric or graphic display screen, regardless of the display process involved”. Personal and portable (laptop) computers are obviously within this definition; it also includes mobile phones, smart phones, tablets and other hand held devices. Even the small visual display adjacent to the controls on, for example, a microwave oven or a washing machine is a display screen for the purpose of the regulations when used at work. Employers have to take action in respect of every person who habitually uses display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work. This means that people who have routinely to work with smart phones, tablets and other hand-held devices must be considered a DSE user and steps taken in accord with the regulations to protect their health whilst at work. Used correctly smart phones, tablets and notepad devices should not pose any significant additional risks. They are rarely used for long continuous periods supporting a work activity rather than being the focus of the activity. The keypads are not designed for long periods of use or for work requiring information input; in these cases a correctly set up workstation or portable PC is always the best option. These smart devices are intended for occasional use as a notepad, as an aide-memoire or to record against a checklist or pro-forma. Suitable arrangements and facilities must therefore be available for downloading and uploading information to a standard workstation where it can be manipulated and used without risk. Always make sure that you are using the right tool for the right job; it not only protects the health of your workers but also maximises productivity and effectiveness. Because the keypad and screen are in the same place when a portable device is used the user tends to angle their head down or raise their arms. In either case, holding the posture that has to be adopted for any extended period of time runs the risk of developing neck and upper limb conditions. Employers need to take these health considerations into account in their day to day management of health and safety. The risks can be reduced by sensible use of the equipment and some basic instruction to users of the equipment. The basic advice which employers should be giving to workers who use this equipment should include; When interacting regularly with the screen have the tablet flat or only slightly angled to ensure that your wrists are not in awkward positions. Use a light touch when interacting with the screen. Avoid glare on the screen. Keep the screen clean so that you can see the display. If you find yourself leaning forward to view the screen enlarge the image or text. Try to place the tablet on a surface rather than holding it. If you need to use the keypad for prolonged periods consider using a blue-tooth external keyboard. When reading from (as opposed to interacting with) the equipment use a stand or tilt the tablet so that the need to bend your head forward is minimised. Remember that movement is important. If you find yourself using the device for more than 10-20 minutes take a short break to stretch your hands, shoulders and neck. Relax your eyes by looking into the distance. Further information and advice on the use of Display Screen Equipment can be found in Guidance Note 5-11. For specific information and advice please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772 - option 2.

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