A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Safe computer use

If you use a computer as part of your job either at work or at home, find out about safe computer use and how to avoid potential problems. Your employer also has certain responsibilities under health and safety employment law regulations.

Employment law: safe computer use

Many people use computers or visual display units (VDUs) as part of their job. Most suffer no ill-effects. VDUs don’t give out harmful levels of radiation and rarely cause skin complaints.

If you use one and suffer ill-effects it may be because of the way you are using the computer. For example, you might suffer from strain in the back of the hand due to excessive ‘mouse’ clicking, or stress or neckache if you use a computer monitor without a break for a long time. Problems like these can be avoided by a well-designed workstation and job.

Is your employer responsible for safe computer use under employment law?

Under computer use health and safety regulations your employer should:

  • look at computer monitors and assess and reduce any risks
  • make sure that workstations meet safety requirements
  • plan work so there are breaks or changes in the type of work done
  • arrange for an eye test if you need one
  • provide health and safety training and information

These employment law computer use regulations also apply if you are working at home as an employee and using a VDU for a long period of time.

To make sure your work environment is safe, think about the way you use your computer monitor. Employment law concerns should be reported to your employer or employee safety representative if you have one.

Entitlement to breaks under employment law

There is no legal limit to how long you should work at a computer monitor of VDU, but under health and safety regulations you have the right to breaks from work using a VDU. These don’t have to be rest breaks, just different types of work.

Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests it’s better to take shorter breaks more often at your workstation than longer breaks and less often, eg a 5-10 minute break after 50-60 minutes continuous screen and/or keyboard work is likely to be better than a 15 minute break every two hours. But if your job means spending long periods at a VDU (eg data input) then longer breaks from your workstation should be introduced.

When working at a VDU make sure you can sit in a comfortable position, and keep a good posture. Your eyes should be level with the screen. Make sure you have enough space and don’t sit in the same position for too long.

If you are disabled, your employer’s employment law duty to make reasonable adjustments for you may mean that they will provide you with special computer equipment or alter existing equipment to suit your needs. You can also get advice and maybe help with paying for equipment from your local Jobcentre Plus.

Free eye tests and computer monitor use

Studies haven’t shown a link between VDU use and damage to eyesight, but if you feel that using a VDU screen is making your eyes tired, tell your employer or employee safety representative.

You have the right to a free eyesight test if you use, or are about to use, a VDU a lot during work hours. You can also get more free tests if recommended by your optician.

If you are prescribed glasses to help you work with a computer monitor, your employer must pay for a basic pair of glasses, provided they are needed especially for your work.

Employment law – safe computer use

Make sure your employer has assessed the risks of your job, paying special attention to computer use.

Make sure any desks and other equipment are comfortable to use and ask your employer if you need special equipment (eg wrist rests).

If you have any health problems you think may be caused by your VDU tell your line manager or health and safety representative.

Your employer has an employment law duty to consult you on health and safety issues that affect you and should welcome early reporting of any issue.