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Lorna Bleyswyck CMIOSH, PGCE

Is your PC Causing you Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Laptops, computers, tablets, phones – we all use them at work, at home and on the move. But they can leave a significant effect on the quality of our life.

May 2016

Laptops, Computers, tablets, phones – we all use them at work, at home and on the move. They have become almost like another vital organ we can’t live without. But, not managing our health when using this DSE (Display Screen Equipment) can leave us with muscular aches and pain in all areas of our body, having a significant effect on the quality of our life.
 

Needless to say, it's essential for us to reduce the risk of these potential health problems. In this post, I’ll review the main health issues associated with DSE use, and what you and your employer can do to minimise the risks in the workplace and at home.

Wrist, Elbow and Neck Ache

Musculoskeletal damage Have you ever suffered from painful conditions like tennis elbow, or carpal tunnel syndrome? These conditions can be caused or aggravated by improper DSE use.

They're typically caused from having your arm or wrist in an awkward position while using a laptop (or computer, or any other piece of equipment that requires typing). But, they can also be caused simply due to the high repetition of hand and finger movements when typing or using the mouse (some speed typing websites have unofficial records of over 174 words per minute!).

Tension in the neck and aching shoulders can be caused in a similar way, too.

Key action points

  1. At work, ensure that a DSE assessment is carried out on your workstation to identify how arm and hand position can be improved. Your employer is legally required to do this if you use DSE as a substantial part of your work.
  2. Make sure you have frequent short breaks when typing continuously.
  3. Do a few simple arm, shoulder and neck exercises regularly throughout the day.
  4. Consider how much you use your computer or laptop at work AND at home in a day. If it can’t be avoided or limited at work, try to limit your use at home.

Back Ache

Musculoskeletal injuries are the most common type reported at work, with the number of cases per year being just under the half a million mark. Given that there are about 30 million people working in the UK, that’s 1.6%. So, if you’re an employer with, say 25 people, statistically speaking, you’re going to have someone report a back injury within the next 18 months.

People concentrate so much on the task at hand, that they don't give much thought to how they are sitting when using DSE. But, sitting in a incorrect position can put a lot of strain on the spine, typically resulting in low back ache.

The natural curve of the lumbar spine is flattened when you sit down, and we often twist and bend the spine to reach items on the floor or perhaps at the back of the desk.

Key action points

  1. At work, the DSE assessment mentioned above will also identify whether your seated position can be improved. Most DSE users can find the correct position using a standard office chair with adjustable features. Occasionally, a special chair may be needed.
  2. Get to know your chair, its features, and how to make adjustments. Sometimes people find out after years of using a chair that the lumbar support is adjustable, or that the armrests can be altered.
  3. Make sure that you always sit with your spine against the contours of the chair back, and adjust the seat height, back tilt etc. every time you sit in a different chair.
  4. Try to find reasons to stand up every now and again to aid circulation and help prevent stiffness and discomfort.

Sore Eyes and Headaches

DSE Assessment

We blink much less than normal when concentrating on a screen, and this can cause our eyes to become dry and sore. This can especially be a problem for people who wear contact lenses.

Any glare or reflection on your screen can also cause your eye muscles to work harder to see, making them fatigue more quickly. Any temporary strain on your eyes can result in a headache.

Key action points

  1. At work, the DSE assessment already mentioned may identify how simple changes to the screen position may remove any glare or reflections.
  2. Be more aware of how often you are blinking when concentrating on your screen, and try to blink more frequently.
  3. Try to include breaks away from your screen into your work; even looking across the room or out of a window can relax the eye muscles.
  4. Consider using artificial tears if you are a contact wearer, or perhaps wear glasses for work.
  5. If these simple measures do not relieve your symptoms when using DSE at work, request an eye and eyesight test from your employer. They are legally bound to provide one for employees who use DSE for a substantial part of their work, and to provide basic frames and lenses if the test shows you require them for your DSE work.

Employer’s Responsibility

In the workplace, an employer has a duty to ensure that any workstation has had a DSE assessment. This should highlight any areas of concern and how to resolve them. Employers should also have information available which will inform you of all their assessment procedures, such as eye tests. 

The amount of times we spend on computers, laptops, tablets and phones is increasing every day. Whether at work or at home, we all have a responsibility to look after our own health when using this equipment. Use this blog as a guide to help minimise the risks of getting any injuries or ill-health, and make sure you and your family stay safe and healthy.

Want some more Help on DSE or Manual Handling?

Our Home Worker Toolkit is the quick and easy to complete a DSE workstation assessment. Developed alongside a leading Ergonomics Consultant, our toolkit includes step-by-step interactive guidance to help you understand the risks associated with poor DSE use and how to set up your workstation correctly. 

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