Office monitor VDU regulations

It is well over 20 years since the Health and Safety – Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations came into force but many office we see still aren’t even aware of what the UK office monitor vdu regulations are.

There are some organisations, which have just heard about these regulations. There are still considerable number of organisations who are either unaware of the existence of these regulations or choose to ignore them. Most organisations partly comply with these regulations by only undertaking very minimalistic risk assessments,, which in their view show that everything is acceptable. Small proportion of organisations fully complies and exceeds the requirements of these regulations and consequently reaps the benefits of more productive healthier and happier workforce.

Recap on the Regulations:
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 are part of a series of six office monitor vdu regulations, which implement the European Health and Safety Directives. The other regulations in the series,, which also came into force on the same date, deal with the provision and use of work equipment, the workplace, manual handling and personal protective equipment. The Health and Safety – Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992, which implement the European Directive (90/270/EEC) on the Display Screen Equipment, came into force on 1 January 1993. The intended broad aim of these regulations were to improve the health and safety of VDU work environment for workers whose jobs involve a significant use of VDU’s – in offices, newspapers, control rooms, dealer rooms, factories.
The key importance of these regulations was that they required an ergonomic approach to VDU task and workstation design. 

Ergonomics is the science of adapting the environment to meet the needs of the individual and the task to be done. If this approach is combined with appropriate training and information for VDU users, compliance with these regulations should reduce the risks associated with VDU work. The action required for reducing risks will often be straightforward and should undoubtedly increase performance and productivity as well as improving workers’ health and safety.

Summary of regulations:
> Regulation 1 defines the terms display screen equipment, user, operator, and workstation.
> Regulation 2 requires employers to analyse users’ workstations for risks (this assessment should be reviewed when necessary) and to reduce risks identified in the assessments.
> Regulation 3 requires employers to ensure that users’ and operators’ workstations including seating (chairs) and workstations (desks) including all other equipment at the workstation meet the requirements as outlined in the schedule.
> Regulation 4 requires employers to design users’ daily work routine in such a way that their workload at the display screen equipment is reduced by either changes of activity or periodic breaks.
> Regulation 5 requires employers to provide users, who request it, with a sight test as defined in the 1989 Opticians Act; and to provide those users whose vision need to be corrected for the VDU work with the appropriate spectacles.
> Regulation 6 requires employers to provide health and safety training for users.
> Regulation 7 requires employers to provide operators and users with information on all aspects of health and safety relating to their workstations, and on measures taken to comply with the regulations.

The schedule to the regulations sets out minimum requirements for workstations and the equipment within them including the chair and the desk or the work surface.  Workstations must comply with the specified requirements to the extent that:
• The components concerned are present,
• Health, safety and welfare will be secured, and
• The inherent requirements of the task make compliance appropriate.

Why should employers comply with these regulations?
Under these regulations managers will be held personally responsible for compliance. Non-compliance, if discovered, can result in personal fines and in extreme cases could result in imprisonment. If there has been a personal injury, the organisation has to pay compensation. The fear of being caught out by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) or local authority environmental inspectors or being sued by an employee should not be the driving force behind compliance with these regulations. If there are risks associated with VDU work, the elimination or reduction of these not only improves workers’ health and safety but also improves efficiency and productivity and hence profitability. For instance if a VDU worker has difficulty in seeing the screen clearly, unless their vision is corrected they are likely to suffer from eye strain and headaches, consequently they will be working inefficiently and are likely to make errors and take time off work. None of which can be profitable for the organisation. The same thing is true for users’ comfort.

Employers should not see these regulations as another set of obstacles but as a means of improving the productivity, efficiency and health of their workforce. Complying with these regulations does not have to cost a great deal of money The majority of solutions would not have to involve any expenditure as new equipment or furniture. In most cases the solution could be as simple as reorganisation of the workstation (based on an ergonomics approach) and training of the workforce so that they would know how to minimise the effects of any of the risks associated with VDU work. By knowing (and actually doing it) how to adjust their chairs, screens and keyboards correctly to suit their work surface, and how to organise their workplace they themselves will reduce or eliminate the possible risks. Training plays as great a role as having the appropriate equipment in the avoidance of repetitive strain injuries (RSI), musculoskeletal problems, stress and fatigue.

Any changes or modifications to the DSE Regulations?
There have been no changes or modifications either to the European Directive or the UK’s DSE Regulations. The European Directive (90/270/EEC) on the Display Screen Equipment, in one of its clauses stated that the experiences of the member states of the European Union in implementing the directive and the national legislation would be discussed after 5 years (ie. in 1999) and if necessary some modifications to the directive would be made. There has been some discussions within the Directorate General in charge of this directive, but there are no changes to the directive, therefore the directive and the DSE regulations remain as they are. Any rumours hinting on new specific requirements for furniture are untrue.

As outlined in the next section there has been new ergonomics and product standards developed for the VDU workstations and office desking and seating where there are now specific requirements. The ergonomics standard in the VDU field (BS EN ISO 9241 Part 5) points out the need for alternating between sitting and standing rather than sitting all the time. In other words, static sitting even on a most ergonomic chair for extended periods cannot be good for the health especially the backs of the people. Consequently, desks,, which can adjust from sitting to standing postures, are becoming popular. As far as the chairs are concerned armrest height adjustability, true seat depth adjustably, adjustable lumbar supports are now appearing in the furniture tenders.

Use of standards in compliance:
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidance document on the Display Screen Equipment Regulations state that standards will provide specifications for new equipment, they may also be used as a yardstick for assessing the suitability of existing installations. The guidance notes go further by stating that workstations,, which comply with the appropriate standards cited in the guidance, would meet, and in most cases exceed the relevant requirements of the Display Screen Regulations.

The standards mentioned in the HSE’s guidance document refer to International (ISO), European (CEN Comite de European Normalisation) and British (BS) standards. Ultimately all of the national standards within the European Community will be harmonised under European Standards. European standards for the workstations and the related equipment have been steadily developed and have been replacing the national standards. Most of the standards concerning the furniture have harmonised under the European standards. Where there are no European standards available manufacturers will be expected to comply with the existing national and international standards.
The main standard developed is BS EN ISO 9241, which has 17 parts. These cover all aspects of visual display screen work including computer equipment, furniture, task, environment, layout, and software. Although this CEN/ISO standard is not directly linked to the directive, one of its main aims is to set minimum health, safety and comfort levels for users.

For furniture manufacturers and specifiers, the two most relevant parts of the BS EN ISO 9241 (Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals) are Part 5; 1999 (Workstation layout and postural requirements) and Part 6; 2000 (Guidance on the work environment). Part 5 provides criteria for assessing the appropriateness of seating and worksurfaces. As this standard is not a product standard actual dimensional requirements and safety requirements can be found in product standards, which are summarised below. In order to ensure that desks and chairs are safe for the users they should comply with the following standards.

Standards applicable to desking:
BS EN 527 Part1 Dimensions
BS 5459 Part 1 Strength and Stability
or BS 4875 Part 5 Strength and Stability and BS 6396 Cable Management
BS 3962 Part 1 Gloss Measurement

Standards applicable to chairs:
BS EN 1335 Part 1 Dimensions
BS 5459 Part 2 Strength and Stability for 24-hour use for people weighing up to 150kgs
or BS EN 1335 Parts 2 & 3 Strength and stability for 8-hour use by people weighing up to 110kgs

Minimum requirements for furniture:
There are a still a number of misunderstandings regarding the sizes and adjustability of desks and chairs to be used at VDU workstations. As a result of a clarification from the EC Directorate General and using the latest appropriate standards (BS EN ISO 9241-5, BS EN 1335-1 BS EN 527-1) these should have been eliminated. So, as far as the minimum requirements of the regulations are concerned, the minimum dimensional and general requirements for VDU desks and chairs can be summarised as follows:

Minimum requirements for rectangular desks:
• Height 720 mm; (680 – 760 mm if adjustable).
• Depth 800 mm.
• Length 1200 mm; (1600 mm preferred).
• The desk does not have to be a rectangular shape, it can be any shape provided that the surface area is adequate for the task and the equipment and it is not less than 0.96 square meters.
• Sufficient legroom underneath (specified in BS EN 527-1 and BS EN ISO 9241-5).
• If the desks/worksurfaces are to be used for tasks where people can alternate between sitting and standing, the minimum height adjustment range should be 660 to 1200mm (preferred range is 600 to 1300mm). The height adjustment range for standing only work surfaces should be at least between 900 and 1200mm.

Minimum requirements for chairs:
• ‘Independent height and tilt adjustment of backrest is not a requirement’. Primary requirement is that is that user should be able to achieve a comfortable position. 
• Seat should adjust in height.
• Backrest should adjust in height and tilt.
• 5 star base with castors.

However, it should be remembered that these are only minimum requirements and that there is no reason for the caring employers not to exceed these. Providing fully height adjustable desks and chairs with independent backrest height adjustment might be appropriate for specific uses provided that they meet the needs of the user and the task and further comply with the adjustability criteria. In fact BS EN ISO 9241 Part 5 promotes the philosophy of alternating between sitting and standing, which is much healthier and productive for the workers. Such worksurfaces should then adjust at least between 660 and 1200mm (600 to 1300mm preferred). 

When furniture is adjustable, furniture manufacturers and purchasers should be aware of and take into account the following requirement:
Adjustment controls should not operate inadvertently / accidentally and pose additional risks. Users should be able to operate controls without exerting excessive forces.

FIRA’s contribution to standardisation of the office
FIRA’s Senior Ergonomist, Levent Çaglar and other furniture experts attend various committees and take active roles as the principal UK experts in developing European and International standards. As a result, FIRA is well placed to advise manufacturers and users on the current and forthcoming standards affecting furniture and the office environment.

FIRA is the UK centre of excellence for furniture industry providing research, consultancy and information. The Ergonomics Unit carries out risk assessments to help companies to comply with health and safety regulations. Identifying problems and offering ergonomic solutions not only ensure regulatory compliance but also increase efficiency, productivity and well-being of workforce. Ergonomics advice in furniture design, specification, selection and the planning of the office layouts is also available.

For further information on the services of the Ergonomics Unit or the Ergonomics Excellence Award, please contact FIRA’s Senior Ergonomist, Levent Çaglar
on +44 (0) 1438 77 77 00.
FIRA (the Furniture Industry Research Association) is the UK centre of excellence for the furniture industry providing research, consultancy and information.
For over half a century, FIRA has driven the need for higher standards through testing, research and innovation for the furniture and allied industries. New and better materials, improved processes and appropriate standards have been developed to enhance the quality of furniture and assist manufacturers and retailers to become more competitive. Information on our members’ products can be found on this site in the ‘search’ section.
A non-government funded organisation, FIRA is supported by all sections of the industry through the furniture industry research association, ensuring ongoing research programmes, which bring benefits to all. With unrivalled support from across the whole industry, FIRA also has the influence and capability to help shape legislation and regulations.

FIRA is recognised internationally as being at the leading edge, with world-class technology and unparalleled industry knowledge. The FIRA Ergonomics Unit carries out risk assessments to help companies comply with health and safety regulations.  Identifying problems and offering ergonomics solutions not only ensures regulatory compliance but also increases efficiency and productivity.  Ergonomics advice in furniture specification and selection and the planning of office layouts is also available.