Last reviewed on 14/10/2013 14:46

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Display Screen Equipment (DSE)

In a modern office, many employees spend the whole of their working day in front of a computer. Sitting in one position and looking at Display Screen Equipment (DSE) all day may lead to problems such as:

  • aches and pains in the upper limbs (hands, wrists, arms, neck, shoulders or back), especially after long periods of uninterrupted DSE work (a condition known as Repetitive Strain Injury)
  • tired, sore eyes and discomfort, particularly for wearers of contact lenses, caused by the heat generated by computers and other equipment which can make the air seem drier
  • headaches caused by several things, mainly to do with the DSE itself, including: screen glare, poor image quality, a need for different glasses, reading the screen for long periods without a break and poor posture
  • some people who suffer from photosensitive epilepsy are susceptible to flickering lights and striped patterns and may be affected by the use of a DSE, but the vast majority of epilepsy sufferers are not affected.

Improving the situation

There are several ways to make sitting at a computer for long periods more comfortable, including:


All chairs should be adjustable for height and tilt and where possible, have adjustable armrests. Individuals with recognised back or neck problems should use chairs that provide additional support in the lumbar (lower back) or thoracic (upper back). Sometimes a high back task chair is recommended for those with shoulder or neck pain.

Adjust the chair and DSE to find the most comfortable position. As a broad guide, the forearms should be approximately horizontal and the eyes at the same height as the top of the DSE. When sitting down for long periods - whether using a DSE or not - care should be taken to adopt a relaxed but upright posture. Don’t sit in the same position for too long.


Equipment should always be arranged so that minimal stretching or reaching is required. Frequently used equipment such as a telephone or a keyboard should be within elbow reach.

Although some movement is desirable, avoid repeatedly stretching to reach things you need. Make sure you have enough workspace for the documents or other equipment you need. Try moving the keyboard, screen, mouse and documents around until you find the best arrangement. For example, a document holder may help you avoid awkward neck and eye movements.


Local lighting should be made available to those doing specific tasks or close work, such as graphics or the use of colours.

As far as possible, arrange your desk and DSE to avoid glare or bright reflections on the screen. This will be easier if neither you nor the screen is directly facing a window or a bright light. Adjust any curtains or blinds to prevent unwanted light.


Make sure that there is enough room under the desk to move your legs freely - move any obstacles, such as boxes and equipment out of the way. Avoid excess pressure from the edge of your seat on the backs of your legs and knees by adjusting your seat properly - ideally, your lower back should be supported and your feet should be able to rest flat on the floor. Some people - particularly those who are shorter - may find a footrest helpful. Where two or more people share the same workstation, it is essential that each one is able to adjust the equipment to the position that best suits them. For example, raising or lowering the chair seat and back, changing the position of the monitor and so on.

Dealing with the strain

Some of the ways to deal with the most common causes of strain in the office are:


If an employee complains of eyestrain, which they believe has been caused through using the DSE, they can ask you to provide and pay for an eye test. You will only have to pay for glasses if the optician specifies that special ones for DSE use (i.e. prescribed for the distance at which the screen is viewed) are needed.


Users of DSEs should take breaks to avoid the hazards of sitting too long and in one position. As the need for breaks depends on the nature and intensity of the work, there are no fixed requirements as to their timing or length. However, the general principle is that short, frequent breaks are better than longer, less frequent ones. Ideally, the individual should have some discretion over when to take breaks.

It is recommended that all users exercise frequently to avoid muscular fatigue. Neck circles, shoulder raises, flexing of arms and legs, rotation of ankles and wrists, and stretching of all the fingers are all common exercises that can prove beneficial. These exercises can be done quite easily at the desk, and take only a few minutes.


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→ Download our DSE Risk Assessment Form

→ Download our DSE Risk Assessment Form - Guidance Notes

→ Visit our page on Display Screen Equipment

→ Read HSE Guidance on Working with DSE's (PDF, external site)