Work with computers can give rise to back and shoulder pain, repetitive strain injuries and visual discomfort/eye strain. Employers have a legal duty to look after your health, safety and welfare when using such equipment. Ask yourself the following questions in relation to your use of ICT in school and at home and raise any issues with your headteacher via your NEU rep.
Have you been offered training in use of the equipment provided to you? This should cover the importance of proper posture and seating relative to the keyboard and screen and risks associated with excessive use.
Has a risk assessment been carried out? (Employers are legally required to undertake risk assessments of their employees’ workstations which consider the entire workstation, including equipment and furniture as well as the work environment, e.g. lighting, temperature and leg room. The main risks to health associated with ICT work are repetitive strain injuries and other musculoskeletal problems causing upper limb pain and discomfort as well as eye strain. HSE guidance includes a range of advice which seeks to minimise the risk of RSI. This includes guidance on the layout of workstations (furniture and equipment) and on work processes.)
- Does the desk or table allow a comfortable position for thighs, knees, lower legs and feet and for the arms and wrists?
- Is the computer positioned so as to prevent sources of light from causing glare and reflections on the screen?
- Does the keyboard tilt and is there sufficient space in front to rest hands or arms?
- Does the display screen offer a stable screen image without flicker and does it tilt and swivel?
- Is the work chair stable and comfortable, with adjustable height and tilt? Staff should not be expected to use chairs designed for children.
- If you are pregnant, are you aware of the need to adapt your workstation to your specific needs, for example by adjusting your chair or providing extra back support?
- Are regular free eye tests offered? The Display Screen Equipment Regulations give certain categories of display screen users the right to regular eye tests paid for by the employer. If the test indicates that corrective spectacles for display screen work are required, then the employer should meet reasonable costs.
- Are you experiencing any symptoms of repetitive strain injuries, including pain, numbness or discomfort in the muscles, tendons, nerves and joints of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and upper arm? If so, request an individual risk assessment from your employer. Such problems can be avoided with regular breaks, adjustable keyboards and wrist rests.
- Are there any slipping/tripping hazards caused by trailing wires?
- Are fire exits kept clear at all times? They must not be blocked by computer equipment or pupils’ bags.
Use of laptops
Laptops have to be compact enough to be easy to carry, resulting in design compromises like smaller keyboards and screens. Laptop work tends therefore to be less comfortable than work at standard sized equipment during prolonged use.
When using a laptop do you
- place the laptop/notebook on a firm surface (not on the lap) at the right height for keying?
- sit comfortably? and
- angle the screen to minimize reflections?
When purchasing a laptop, the HSE suggests that the following ergonomic factors be considered:
- Choose a lighter model, with a large and clear screen (14 inch diagonal or more;
- Select one with the longest battery life possible;
- Choose a lightweight carry case with handle and shoulder straps.
The HSE has wide range of guidance on working with display screen equipment, including FAQ, a workstation checklist and regulations.