Using a computer safely
Many people use computers or visual display units (VDUs) as part of their job and most suffer no ill-effects. VDUs don't give out harmful levels of radiation and rarely cause skin complaints. If you use one and suffer ill-effects it may be because of the way you're using the computer.
For example, you might suffer from strain in the back of the hand due to excessive mouse-clicking, or stress or neckache if you use a VDU without a break for a long time. Problems like these can be avoided by a well-designed workstation and job.
- Ergonomics (Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland website)
- Laptop Health (NHS Choices website)
Is your employer responsible?
Under health and safety regulations your employer should:
- look at VDU workstations and assess and reduce any risks there might be
- make sure that workstations meet safety requirements
- plan work so there are breaks or changes in the type of work done
- arrange for an eye test if you need one
- provide health and safety training and information
These regulations also apply if you're working at home as an employee and using a VDU for a long period of time. To make sure your work environment is safe, think about the way you use your VDU. If you have concerns you should report them to your employer or employee safety representative if you have one.
Your right to breaks
There is no legal limit to how long you should work at a VDU, but under health and safety regulations you have the right to breaks from work using a VDU. These don't have to be rest breaks, just different types of work.
Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) suggests that it's better to take shorter breaks more often at your workstation than longer breaks and less often; for example a 5-10 minute break after 50-60-minute continuous screen and/or keyboard use is likely to be better than a 15-minute break every two hours.
But if your job means spending long periods at a VDU, like a data inputter, then longer breaks from your workstation should be introduced.
When working at a VDU make sure you can sit in a comfortable position, and keep a good posture. Your eyes should be level with the screen. Make sure you have enough space and don't sit in the same position for too long.
If you're disabled, your employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments for you may mean that they will provide you with special computer equipment, or alter existing equipment, to suit your needs.
Free eye tests
Studies haven't shown a link between VDU use and damage to eyesight, but if you feel that using a VDU screen is making your eyes tired, tell your employer or employee safety representative. You have the right to a free eyesight test if you use, or are about to use, a VDU a lot during work hours.
You can also get more free tests if recommended by the optician. If you're prescribed glasses to help you work with a VDU, your employer must pay for a basic pair of glasses, provided they're needed especially for your work.
What you should do next
Make sure your employer has assessed the risks of your job, paying special attention to computer use. Make sure any desks and other equipment are comfortable to use and ask your employer if you need special equipment like wrist rests.
If you have any health problems you think may be caused by your VDU, contact your line manager or safety representative. Your employer has a duty to consult you on health and safety issues that affect you and should welcome early reporting of any issue.
Where to get help
Citizens Advice Northern Ireland can provide free and impartial advice.
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.
You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.