Chapter 12: Health And Safety

Chapter objectives

In this chapter we shall:

  • Explain the scope and purpose of the relevant health and safety regulations and how the defined terms in the regulations should be interpreted for not-for-profit organisations.
  • Set out a helpful checklist with useful tips on how not-for-profit organisations can set about complying.

Regulations scope and purpose

The relevant Health and Safety legislation in this area is the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.  This legislation is based on an EC Directive, issued in 1990, to cover the health and safety aspects of working with Visual Display Units (VDUs), also referred to as DSEs (Display Screen Equipment). In January 1993 this Directive became part of UK legislation under the Health and Safety at Work Act.  The Regulations cover not only the equipment, but also the software and environment.  They use the term "workstation" to cover all of these aspects, including furniture, lighting, temperature, humidity etc.

The regulations require "users" and "operators" to be identified and a suitable and sufficient assessment made of all workstations with a view to reducing risks.  A "user" is defined as an employee who habitually uses display screen equipment as a significant part of their normal work.  An "operator" is defined as a self-employed person working within an organisation.

Not-for-profit organisations should interpret the regulations as applying to all employees, temporary staff, volunteers and beneficiaries who habitually use display screen equipment.  It is the organisation's responsibility to comply with the regulations and also the responsibility of individuals themselves to ensure that the facilities and equipment are used correctly. 

The aim of the regulations is to prevent health problems by encouraging good ergonomic design of equipment, furniture, the working environment and the job.  The Health and Safety Executive believes the cost of complying with the Regulations may be offset by reductions in sickness absence or gains in productivity.  The regulations place an obligation on employers to:

  • Analyse workstations and reduce health and safety risks.
  • Ensure workstations meet minimum ergonomic requirements.
  • Provide information about risks and measures.
  • Plan daily work routine for users.
  • Offer eye tests and special glasses if necessary.
  • Provide health and safety training.

Regulations checklist and tips

The following checklist and comments should help you to identify aspects that require attention and help you to comply.  Ergonomic recommendations are relative and depend on the individual, the task and the equipment being used.  The notes and comments with the checklist are designed to help not-for-profit organisations to comply without bursting the budget.  Remember, if you answer no to any of the questions, you need to do something about it.

Checklist 12.1.1 Health and Safety - Workstation environment
Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Is there adequate ventilation? Lack of ventilation can cause discomfort, sore eyes and skin rashes. In particular, laser printers and photocopiers should be sited in well ventilated areas
Is the humidity adequate? Electrical equipment produces dry heat - consider placing a broad-leaved plant or a bowl of water with a wick in the work area to increase humidity and reduce static electricity. Ensure that water is kept away from electrical equipment
Are noise levels acceptable e.g. from printer or PC? The British Standards Institution suggests a maximum of 55 decibels for work requiring sustained concentration and 60 decibels for other workstation work. Noisy impact printers should ideally have acoustic hoods to reduce noise
Is cabling secure and tidy? Uncontrolled wires and cables are a common cause of accidents. Ideally they should be confined in desk brackets or trunking
Is there sufficient working space? For example, can users and operators change position and vary movements . Don't forget that you need to take individuals' special needs into account, especially if you are offering a service to beneficiaries with special needs
Checklist 12.1.2 Health and Safety - Visual Display Units (VDUs)
Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Are you able to swivel and tilt your screen? The angle of vision normally recommended is 30 to 45 degrees below the normal horizontal
Is your screen free from glare and reflections? Where possible, the VDU should be at right angles to the window. Where glare cannot be avoided, you should fit anti-glare screens to the VDUs. Shop carefully for anti-glare screens, as some suppliers make extravagant claims about expensive screens. Try before you buy if possible
Can you easily alter the brightness and contrast? The brightness of the VDU should be adjusted to suit the lighting conditions in the room. Where natural light is available, this often requires the ability to change brightness and/or contrast during the day as the ambient light changes
Is the screen image flicker free? Defective VDUs should be replaced. In general, working with VDUs does not cause epilepsy, but in the rare case of photo-sensitive epilepsy, VDU screen flicker might affect people adversely
Do you regularly clean the screen? Screens should be kept free of dust and finger marks. Special anti-static cleaners are advisable, but regular wiping with a soft cloth or tissue is usually sufficient
Checklist 12.1.3 Health and Safety - Keyboard
Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Is your keyboard independent of the main unit? Modern keyboards on desktop computers have advisable (detachable, tiltable) keyboards. Laptop computers usually do not have them, which is one of several reasons why prolonged use of laptop computers is not recommended
Can the surface angle of the keyboard be adjusted? Modern keyboards on desktop computers have advisable (detachable, tiltable) keyboards. Laptop computers usually do not have them, which is one of several reasons why prolonged use of laptop computers is not recommended
Is there adequate space in front of the keyboard to rest your wrists? Approximately 100mm (4") is recommended. If the keyboard is high, you might use some padding in front of the keyboard to support the wrists
Are the keys easily readable? The symbols on the keys should be legible and not causing reflections
Can the keys be depressed without excessive effort? If you are using an older computer with an inappropriate keyboard, consider replacing the keyboard even if you cannot afford to replace the computer
Checklist 12.1.4 Health and Safety - Chairs

Essentially, chairs should:

  • support the back in its natural curve;
  • distribute the body's weight evenly;
  • minimise pressure on the thighs behind the knees

Ideally, individuals should try several different styles of chair before buying a new one to ensure that the individual is comfortable.

Again, you should consider individuals with special needs on a case by case basis.

Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Does your chair have a five point base?
Is your chair stable and safe from tipping over?
Is the seating height easily adjustable?
Is the height of the backrest adjustable?
Can the backrest be adjusted forwards and backwards?
Can adjustments be made easily and safely from the seated position?
Are the castors free and working?
Is the floor surface sound and stable? The floor should allow the wheels of chairs to run freely and should not produce excessive static electricity
Checklist 12.1.5 Health and Safety - Footrests

You should provide footrests for anyone who requires one - usually relevant for people under 1600 mm (5ft 3") or those with relatively short legs.  Footrests ensure that feet and legs are comfortably supported and that blood supply at the back of the knees is not restricted

Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
When seated comfortably do your feet rest firmly on the floor?
If no, are footrests provided?
If footrests are used are they easily adjustable: in height, in inclination
Checklist 12.1.6 Health and Safety - Desks

The British Standards Institution recommends a minimum of 1200 x 600 mm (48" x 24") and an optimum size of 1600 x 800 (63" x 32").  In any event, the desk should be deep enough from front to back to allow room for the system unit, keyboard and other related equipment and still leave at least 100 mm (4") at the front of the desk to allow space to rest your wrists when not typing.

The desk should be of reasonable height to allow sufficient clearance for legs.  Suggested desk height is 720 mm (29") for fixed height desks and 680 to 760 mm (27" to 30") for adjustable desks.  The desk should not be so high that the chair cannot be adjusted to fit it or the feet cannot rest comfortably on the floor or footrest.

Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Is the desk surface sufficient to allow a flexible arrangement of papers and other equipment?
Is the desk surface non-reflective?
Is the leg room sufficient to allow unobstructed turning?
Do you use a document holder for copy typing?
Is it positioned next to and in the same plane as the screen?
Is adequate storage space provided for copies, handbooks, documents, personal belongings etc.?
Checklist 12.1.7 Health and Safety - Lighting

General lighting should illuminate the entire room to an adequate standard.  Desk lamps may be required to provide an appropriate contrast between the screen and the background environment, taking into account the type of work and individual's needs.

Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Where natural light exists, have steps been taken to reduce glare/reflections, eg positioning of the equipment, fitted blinds?
Is the artificial light sufficient but not too bright?
Are desk lamps provided where necessary? Be careful when positioning desk lamps to ensure that they do not adversely affect nearby workstations
Checklist 12.1.8 Health and Safety - General
Question Yes / no Notes and comments (some from a not-for-profit organisation's perspective)
Do you take a break from your workstation every hour? Potential problems arising from not taking regular breaks include back ache, circulatory problems, eye strain and repetitive strain injury (RSI).
RSI can be caused by repetitive movements, awkward working positions, inadequate rest breaks and poor office and equipment design. Examples of RSI are tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheaths in hands, wrists and arms), writers cramp and tennis elbow. The normal symptoms are pain or discomfort in the upper limbs. If discomfort persists even when taking proper breaks and sitting properly, the affected person should stop using display screen equipment and consult a doctor promptly.
This problem seems particularly common in not-for-profit organisations, possibly as a result of the enthusiasm of some volunteers and staff and high transaction volumes in several aspects of not-for-profit organisation's work.
Do you offer eye tests to "users"? You are obliged to offer eye tests to users and offer special glasses if necessary
There is no evidence to suggest that VDU work causes eye problems of itself, but it can make people more aware of existing untreated eye conditions. Eye strain can be caused by:
close focussing for too long without sensible breaks;
insistent glare;
reflection from windows and other light sources;
a flickering image on the screen;
low humidity levels, especially in the case of contact lens wearers
Most people normally read with a document 330 to 360 mm (13" to 14") away from their eyes, whereas the normal distance for reading from a VDU is about 530 mm (21"). People who normally wear glasses for reading sometimes find it helpful to have a special pair of glasses for working with VDUs
Has your PC been checked for safety under the Electricity at Work regulations? Health and Safety Executive guidance states that computer equipment should be examined annually for electrical and associated faults. In addition, the equipment should be safety tested every five years. You might wish to check that your maintenance contract covers these issues


  • Health and safety regulations are designed to help you to be healthier, safer and more efficient in the long run - ultimately they are therefore a good thing.
  • Not-for-profit organisations should include part time employees, volunteers and beneficiaries who use computer equipment within their definition of users for the purpose of complying with this legislation.
  • If you apply common sense to complying, ensuring compliance should help your not-for-profit organisation more economic and efficient.
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