Are DSE regulations fit for purpose in 2014?


Friday 19 September 2014


Katharine Metters


The webinar will identify how DSE is used by many employees today and consider whether the current DSE regulations and guidance document provide a suitable framework to protect employees from the possible negative effects of poor DSE usage and if not, what different or additional approach might be needed.


Katharine is a Member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, holds a Masters Degree in Ergonomics and is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Safety and Health. This unique combination of qualifications, together with her vast range of experience working within healthcare, food, retail and utility sectors, enables Katharine to offer a very broad based range of training, education and health & safety management in the workplace.

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Q: Interested to know about the use of surfaces and also, with lightweight PC, the lack of ports to introduce keyboards etc.

A: In relation to the lack of ports, many keyboards and mice are now bluetooth which can get around the situation. Some keyboards also come with additional ports which will allow 1 port of the laptop to be used for a keyboard and mouse and similarly you can get ports which create several ports from one port.

Q: Are the regs being reviewed again by the HSE as it has been 12 years since last review?

A: The Regulations themselves are not likely to be reviewed at present but Guidance is likely to be.

Q: Thanks for demystifying the process. Too many people say to me it is a 'specialist' area, or a 'special chair' is needed! I say there is no such thing as special chairs, just expensive chairs!

A: So much of good DSE use is about good basic set-up and correct usage, change of activity etc, so I am glad that this came through in my webinar.

Q: what are your views on the sit-stand desk attachments being marketed by various suppliers?

A: I think the ability to vary your working posture between sitting and standing is of huge benefit for many jobs but it must be easy and quick, so in answer to your question, there are some good / some not so good products on the market, and some which are perhaps cheaper but not so easy and quick to use are best used for more temporary problem situations, or maybe as a trial to see if an investment in sit-stand would be helpful.

Q: My main issue constantly surrounds temperatures. How can you ensure everyone is comfortable when temperature is down to individual preference?

A: This is a frequent problem and sometimes it is not the temperature but the air movement or quality that is the problem. Firstly I would try hard to prevent people from sitting in draughts as these can cause real discomfort and problems. The general advice is to keep an office temperature around 19-23 degrees and inform people to dress according to their temperature needs. If people are complaining with this I would suggest doing a temperature survey, asking how people feel at regular times during the day to see if there is a pattern. As we are all different, if 80% are comfortable I would suggest you probably would not need to do any more. Obviously if people have a medical issue or particular circumstances you may need to make local changes.

Q: I think that a good starting point would be addressing the traditional workstation set-up and especially the lack of flexibility of traditional desk; Victorian desks were far more suitable than traditional ones.

A: I agree – standard 'anything' can cause issues with human variety.

Q: I am of the opinion that DSE regulation should put more emphasis on the psychological and social risk factors.

A: I agree there are often issues in these areas which affect health and productivity at work. You cannot separate body and mind.

Q: Is it enough to let people perform their own DSE assessment via online tools, or should we be interacting, performing these assessments face-to-face? Many just click through online training without reading.

A: Assessments need to be done by competent assessors, and the only way to test whether someone has gained the necessary knowledge from completing online training to comment on their own workstations would be to test their knowledge; this is why the better online DSE assessment programs require users to pass a knowledge test before they go on to complete their DSE self-assessment. In addition to this there will always be a certain number of people who need further assistance and a more in-depth assessment and solutions, so a system to provide this will be needed in addition to the online tool.

Q: Are DSE assessors a legal requirement?

A: All companies are not required to have internal DSE assessors, so long as the assessments are completed and they are suitable and sufficient, the method by which this is done is not specified. If doing face-to-face DSE assessments then competent assessors are needed (internal or consultants), however you can train users to self-assess but you will need systems to allow them to resolve any issues found. Not all users will find that self-assessment will enable them to resolve their issues, so usually there will be a need for some face-to-face assessments so access to competent DSE assessors will probably be needed for a number of users.

Q: If someone works at home one day a week or less and have competed training and self-assessment, would you consider it necessary to complete a home visit to complete a full workstation assessment, particularly if they have indicated no issues?

A: If they have completed training and passed an assessment so they could be deemed competent to do their own assessment, and completed it with no issues, then I would not think it necessary to complete an additional DSE assessment. However it may be prudent to get them to supply a picture of them working at their workstation, and they should know the importance of reporting issues early, and how to do this, and to regularly check with them that nothing has altered to require a further assessment.

Q: What do you believe to be an adequate break?

A: This really is so dependent on the type and intensity of the work – with some jobs the activities are sufficiently varied that no additional breaks are needed. If someone's DSE work is quite intensive, with very little task variation, I suggest activity at the workstation every 20-30 mins; such as shaking arms and circling shoulders and then up from the seat every hour. If they go to the printer or similar every hour then that is probably fine, if not then they may need to go to get a drink of water or walk to the door and back etc.

Q: Is it possible to receive a copy of this presentation after the event? Thanks.

A: Yes, it will be available on the website.

Q: How are situations such as desk share to be managed so that all users are accommodated?

A: With multi-user desks, providing fully adjustable equipment and training on how to use it is usually the best, and in the longer term the most cost effective way to do this so all are catered for. If the users only use the same workstation e.g. job share, then they should all have a DSE assessment, but if the equipment has full adjustment and they are trained there should be few, if any issues.

Q: What should we think about when someone asks for a treadmill desk?

A: Personally I cannot concentrate on work when using one and so I do not think they are a useful addition to the office. I think there are better ways to encourage movement in the office which do not have the drawbacks.

Q: An employee insists on a footrest but their DSE assessment shows that they slouch at their desk. The employee is insisting they be provided with the footrest. Can the employer be forced to provide the footrest, knowing full well this will exacerbate or create an additional problem?

A: The Schedule to the Regs says if the person 'wishes one' but guidance says not unless assessment shows a need. Initially I would try explaining your reasons to the user, they might give you a valid reason for their request, but in the end if you are happy that your decision can be justified i.e. your reason that you feel it would will exacerbate or create an additional problem, then go with it.

Q: Why not just use HSWA and Management Regs?

A: Sometimes I think about this myself. Probably because people do want that additional guidance and the specificity of Regs may save time and assist those persons actually tasked with the job of doing assessments.

Q: Could it be said that DSE work and sedentary behaviour exacerbate obesity?

A: Absolutely; so we must encourage regular movement to benefit a whole range of things including reduced MSD risk. We want to gain the benefits of technology without the detrimental effects of the sedentary behaviour it often produces.

Q: In the past, sitting position is straight back but now there is 'talk' coming from Australian research that sitting straight is damaging, and in fact you should sit tilted back. Any views?

A: This research has been around for a while and yes, being tilted back puts more of the load on the chair, but is only suitable if this doesn't compromise the work posture, in particular in the neck region. We should encourage people to ensure they are supported by the backrest and not try to maintain an 'upright' position for this reason.

Q: There is a call centre operator who finds a chair hits their back and have asked to sit for their shift on a round exercise ball. Any views?

A: If the chair back is 'hitting' them I think a review of the chair is needed, as this sounds as if there is a problem with the chair.

I do not like exercise balls used as operators chairs as they do not offer suitable support for the user, which can be a problem for the length of a usual shift. Certainly don't allow unless one that is in a frame on wheels, and the whole thing can be set at a suitable height for working. As there is no back support, if you are going to allow this I would strongly suggest they are provided with an operators chair with a suitable backrest as well, to move between the 2 during their shift.

Q: What advice can be given in respect of the types of chairs that should now be being offered, given in particular the increased size and weight of the population?

A: When buying chairs it would be advisable to ensure that the 'standard chair' has a good range of adjustments, more than the minimum requirements (including arm width and seat pan length) and a good weight limit, as you will accommodate more people with these. Many chairs now go to 23kg as standard. It is important that a person is identified early as needing a chair with different adjustments, or weight limit for their comfort and safety, and these chairs are stocked by many suppliers.