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RR561 - Better display screen equipment work-related ill health data

A variety of ill-health symptoms have been associated with work with Display Screen Equipment (DSE) including musculoskeletal disorders; mental stress; and visual fatigue. The project sought information about the extent of such illhealth in DSE workers through a survey of employees. It compared the data with those in the scientific literature. An extensive literature review sought to identify consistent evidence on any possible causal role of workplace factors.

The survey found high prevalences in DSE users of self-reported symptoms, eg. headaches (52%), eye discomfort (58%), and neck pain (47%); other symptoms such as back (37%) and shoulder (39%) pain were also frequently reported. Most of those reporting symptoms did not take any time off work. These findings are broadly consistent with other studies in the literature.

The results showed a significant influence of DSE work in that the prevalences of symptoms were higher among those who spent more time at their computer at work and among those who worked for longer without a break. All symptoms were more common among respondents who had indications of stress, anxiety and/or depression. These findings are again consistent with the published literature. Although many studies have examined possible causal factors, methodological differences make it hard to draw any firm conclusions about causation of symptoms.

Comparing these results with those of earlier research provides no positive evidence that the introduction of legislation on DSE work in 1993 has reduced ill-health in DSE workers. However there are substantial uncertainties, not least over the extent to which the provisions of the legislation have been fully implemented, and it cannot be safely concluded that the legislation has had no effect. The report discusses the significance of its detailed results in the context of relevant factors in the workplace, and makes recommendations.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2009-05-01