RSI Week: Your employer's obligations

If your job involves spending too much time doing a repetitive task against tight deadlines, the law is on your side

Most workplace health and safety regulations apply to factories, warehouses and other places where the likelihood of losing a vital appendage are a lot higher then the average open-plan office. But while complaints like RSI don't occurr often in the average Casualty script, lawmakers obviously take the issue seriously enough to have laid down some regulations for employers.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) regulations 1992 relate to most types of data terminal -- anything with a screen and keyboard really. Much of the DSE regulations refer to the effect monitor use can have on the eyes, and healthcare related to the eyes. While this is just as valid a health concern as RSI, it isn't strictly speaking the same condition. However, there are also references to the general work environment in the regulations, and peripheral equipment.

The regulations define a workstation as: "display screen equipment … a keyboard or any other input device, any optional accessories to the display screen equipment, any disk drive, telephone, modem, printer, document holder, work chair, work desk, work surface or other item peripheral to the display screen equipment, and the immediate work environment around the display screen equipment."

This means that it's not just your computer and input devices that the regulations apply to, but your entire work area. Your desk and chair are just as important to having a good posture while working, so it's right that attention is paid to them.

The regulations state that:

  • 1 - Every employer shall perform a suitable and sufficient analysis of those workstations…for the purpose of assessing the health and safety risks.

This means that your general working environment, including your monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, desk and any other equipment on your desk needs to be checked to see if it's correctly adjusted or positioned to minimise your risk of developing RSI. What this generally boils down to is having an adjustable height chair, and enough desk space to position your mouse and keyboard to suit you.


  • 2 - The keyboard shall be tiltable and separate from the screen so as to allow the operator or user to find a comfortable working position.

Most desktop PCs or terminals will meet this requirement anyway, and providing you have enough desk space you should be able to find a comfortable position. If your work PC is a notebook, you could use this part of the regulations as part of a request for a docking station, separate keyboard and/or monitor.

  • 3 - Every employer shall so plan the activities of users at work in his undertaking that their daily work on display screen equipment is periodically interrupted by such breaks or changes of activity as reduce their workload at that equipment.

Most IT-related jobs are sufficiently varied to meet this requirement anyway, but the message is clear: doing one thing for long periods of time is bad for you. Even when you're on a deadline, the regulations make it clear that you shouldn't have to work ceaselessly at the same task for extended periods, and you're within your rights to vary your workload to avoid RSI.

  • 4 - Every employer shall ensure that each user at work in his undertaking is provided with adequate health and safety training.

This requirement means that if you're not sure about how to adjust your working environment to minimise your risk of RSI, you're entitled to ask for training. This could be as simple as being shown how to adjust your chair, desk, monitor and other equipment, or if you really need it being shown correct posture. It's unlikely you'll need much training, but it's comforting to know that if you're not confident about minimising your risks on your own, you can ask for help.

Please bear in mind that you still need to take some personal responsibility for avoiding RSI: Sit correctly, take regular breaks and don't ignore any discomfort you do suffer.

See our tips on how to avoid RSI  for more information.

Check ZDNet UK's RSI Special Report for all the news, advice, reviews and downloads you need to stay healthy and free of Repetitive Strain Injury.