Computer safety


Computer Safety

Nearly everyone in the Department of Biology uses display screen equipment (DSE), such as a computer, as part of their normal everyday work. Normal, intermittent use of such equipment does not normally give rise to significant risks, but long periods of use, with poor lighting or bad posture can cause health problems. The University of York has adopted its Management Procedure for the use of Display Screen Equipment.

The biggest problems are typically associated with:

  • prolonged use without rest causing eye strain / fatigue
  • intensive use of mouse causing wrist aches and pain
  • poor lighting - reflections of lights or windows on the screen
  • poor seating - insufficient back support or poor leg support
  • poor keyboard location - insufficient room to rest your wrists
  • poor mouse position - badly positioned mouse causing bad posture

It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that none of these problems arise. It is the responsibility of the users to report any failures to meet the requirements to the appropriate person.

Are you a 'User'?

The University is required to establish which members of staff are classed as DSE 'Users', a term that is more technical than its normal usage. 'Users' are essentially staff who are reliant on visual DSE as a major tool to do their job and who accordingly spend a significant part of their working day entering and extracting information. Although there is no exact definition of what constitutes a 'User', there are a number of factors that you should be consider in deciding if you are a user or not. These include:

  • Are you dependent on the use of visual DSE to do your job or have little choice about using them?
  • Is the use of the DSE equipment one of the primary functions of your job?
  • Do you require special training or expertise to use DSE?
  • Do you use DSE on most working days for continuous spells of more than an hour at a time?
  • Is the fast transfer of information to or from the screen an important part of the job?
  • Do you have to work to a demanding standard of attention or concentration?

If you answer YES to all questions you are defined as a 'User'.

If you answer NO to most questions you are certainly not a 'User'

If in any doubt whether you are a user or not your classification should be discussed with a trained assessor: Paul Waites or Michelle Scaife

It is important that all 'Users' of Display Screen Equipment within the Department have their workstation assessed to ensure that their computer work will not cause health problems such musco-skeletal aches and strains, eye fatigue and mental stress. Problems of this kind can be overcome by good ergonomic design of equipment, furniture, the working environment and the tasks performed. The assessment process is designed to highlight such problems and take action to remove or at least reduce any identified risks.


Students are not classed as employees within the meaning of the Regulations. However, the Department will apply the key principles of the regulations in our provision of DSE to be used by students. There is no requirement to provide students with eye tests of any kind.


The assessment process

The following process is in place to assess workstations of computer (DSE) users:

  • Self assessment offers a simple, way of assessing your workstation
  • The results of this assessment will be recorded by the Health & Safety (Training) Department.
  • If issues / concerns are identified in the self-assessment that cannot easily be resolved by the user, users should arrange to see one of the local departmental assessors (Paul Waites or Michelle Scaife) to agree appropriate action to resolve issue(s) raised
  • A more formal assessment of the workstation may be carried out by the assessor if required using the Workstation Assessment Form (Appendix 3 of the DSE Management Procedure)
  • Agreed actions should be implemented as soon as reasonably practicable
  • The assessments will be passed on to the Departmental Safety Advisor who will consider the assessments, and countersigns to agree or disagree.
  • It will be necessary to review assessments in the light of changes which could affect their validity, for example:
    • major change in the workstation furniture
    • major change in the hardware (screen, keyboard, input devices, etc.)
    • major change in the software used
    • substantial increase in the amount of time spent using DSE
    • substantial change in other aspects of the task (for example, requirement for greater speed or accuracy)
    • relocation of the workstation
    • significant changes to the lighting in the area of the workstation
  • Further supplementary training highlighting good practices that computer users should follow.


Provision of eye and eyesight tests for users

Whilst DSE poses no threat to normal eyesight, a heightened awareness of visual problems may manifest itself within their use.

All members of staff who are designated 'users' of display screen equipment are entitled to an eye and eyesight test and contribution towards the purchase of special corrective appliances within the scheme agreed by the University, providing these are needed specifically for computer (or other DSE) work.

Eligible staff who wish to use the University eye check system need to complete a ' DSE Voucher Application form' which can be signed off by a departmental DSE assessor (Paul Waites or Michelle Scaife) or their line manager.

Completed forms are returned to the Service Administrator, Health, Safety & Security Department.  A voucher will only be issued to eligible staff and must be taken to the 'University Opticians' ('Specsavers') when individuals go for their eye check, removing the need for any money to change hands. No reimbursements will be made for staff who decide to use other opticians.

Upper limbs

Upper limb pain & discomfort

A range of conditions of the arm, hand and shoulder areas linked to work activities are now described as work-related upper limb disorders. These range from temporary fatigue or soreness in the limb to chronic soft tissue disorders like peritendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Upper limb disorders can occur as a result of a variety of causes, including work and social activities. The use of screen-based terminals may contribute to such a condition. Sitting in fixed positions for long periods, or awkward, rapid or repetitive movements of the head, body or arms can cause pains or discomfort in the neck, shoulders or arms. These symptoms usually disappear when work stops.

Poor workplace or job design or inappropriate keying techniques may put some keyboard users at risk of chronic upper limb disorders. Symptoms can include pain, swollen soft tissue, restricted joint movement, loss of function and permanent disability. In such cases the University will operate the normal procedures for dealing with staff who become incapable of carrying out work of a particular kind.


Rest breaks & pauses

In most tasks natural breaks or pauses will occur as a consequence of the inherent organisation of the work and will help to prevent the onset of fatigue. The University policy is, wherever possible, to permit natural breaks or changes in patterns of activity as an integral part of the tasks to be performed. In some DSE work, for example those data entry tasks requiring continuous and sustained attention and concentration, together with high data entry rates, such natural breaks are less frequent In situations where this type of work cannot be organised in any other way, and where natural breaks in work do not occur, the introduction of rest pauses should help attention and concentration to be maintained.

Rest pauses should be arranged so that they are taken prior to the onset of fatigue, not as a recuperative period following onset of fatigue. Shorter, frequent pauses are more satisfactory than longer ones taken occasionally, e.g., a 5-10 minute break after 50-60 minutes is likely to be better than a 15 minute break every 2 hours. Breaks should, whenever possible, be taken in an environment where no DSE equipment is present. Users who work for long periods, for example on overtime, should be particularly aware of the need to take adequate breaks.

Laptop safety

Laptop safety

The problems

Laptops are not very ergonomic - it's not usually possible to use them in a good posture and they can cause you problems. You need to try to prevent:

  • Neck or eye problems from trying to see the screen at an awkward angle
  • Wrist and hand problems from bending your wrists to use the keyboard, or from overusing the other input devices (mouse, nipple, roller ball, pad etc)
  • Shoulder or back problems from carrying the laptop, or from reaching too far to use it, or from using it extensively in an unusual posture such as slouching, bending over or lying down.
  • Over-heating of the groin due to supporting the hot laptop on your lap (despite its name!)
  • You will also be aware that laptops are tempting for thieves and you will need to take steps to avoid being a victim of theft.

Here are some suggestions for how to prevent these problems:

Selecting a laptop

The first rule is – where possible don't use a laptop for long periods, use a desktop computer. You can arrange the desktop equipment much better so you can work with fewer postural problems, and you can see and adjust the screen much more clearly. If you do need to buy a laptop, look out for:

  • As low a weight as possible (3kg or less) for computer and accessories.
  • As large and clear a screen as possible (14" diagonal or more)
  • As large size keys as possible
  • Detachable or height adjustable screen if possible
  • As long a battery life as possible, or extra transformer/cable sets so you only carry the computer, not the cables etc
  • Touch pad, roller ball or external mouse rather than 'nipple' track point device
  • Wrist pad between keyboard and front edge of table
  • Tilt adjustable keyboard
  • Facility for attaching external mouse and numeric keypad
  • Friction pads underneath to prevent computer sliding across surfaces when in use
  • Sufficient memory and speed (for the applications used)
  • "Add-ons" that improve usability and reduce maintenance time, such as (removable) CD-ROM drives and additional memory
  • Lightweight non-branded carrying case with handle and shoulder straps (or normal rucksack with extra padding inside – this will disguise the fact that you are carrying a laptop at all).

Working on a laptop

  • Find a posture in which you can keep your wrists straight (neutral, in line with your forearms), your shoulders relaxed and your back supported, and in which you feel comfortable.
  • Align the laptop centrally with your body - don’t twist round to use it.
  • Take frequent breaks from working on the laptop, and get up and stretch and walk around, at least once an hour and more frequently if possible.
  • Change your posture often, whenever it becomes even slightly uncomfortable; don’t stay in one position for more than 15 minutes or so.
  • Rest your eyes frequently by looking at something far away or by closing them, for a minute or two.
  • Remember to blink more, to prevent your eyes feeling dry.
  • Take whatever software training you can because the more skilled you are with the programs you use, the less time you will need to spend on the laptop.
  • Do not support the laptop on your lap (because of the heat).
  • Make sure the laptop is supported and stable and will not wobble or slide as you work.
  • Adjust the laptop screen angle (and height if possible) to reduce stretching your neck, and to minimise glare on the screen.
  • If possible, if using the laptop for long periods, attach an external full-size keyboard and an external mouse.
  • Think before you use the laptop - try to cut down intensive usage because the more you use it, the more likely you are to develop problems.
  • If you are sharing the laptop, e.g. in a teaching session, try to move the laptop round to face each person in turn, rather than each stretch to reach and see it. And if you start to get symptoms such as aches and pains, associated with your use of the laptop, consult your doctor immediately.

Further information


The above information is advice issued by Rachel Benedyk at the 'UCL Interaction Centre' following research on ergonomic effects of laptops on students

Standing Workstations

Standing Workstation:Guidance

The following represents good practices for working safely at your computer workstation:


Standing workstations, allowing you to change between sitting and standing, are becoming increasingly popular in workplaces as a way of reducing long periods of sedentary postures.  
The following outlines:

  • departmental policy on provision of standing workstations
  • useful guidance on selection and safe use of standing workstations

Benefits of a standing workstation
Provision of sit /stand workstations in the Department
Factors to consider when choosing a workstation
Types of sit / stand workstations
Comparison of sit / stand workstation options
Preparing for a standing workstation
Training and awareness
Guidance on correct set up for a sit / stand desk
Getting the most out of a sit /stand workstation