Should VDU users be given breaks?
The relevant regulations are the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992. Regulation 4, is concerned with the daily activities of users and states:
'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.'
The guidance states:
In most tasks, natural breaks or pauses occur as a consequence of the inherent organisation of the work. Whenever possible, jobs at display screens should be designed to consist of a mix of screen-based and non screen-based work to prevent fatigue and to vary visual and mental demands. Where the job unavoidably contains spells of intensive display screen work (whether using the keyboard or input device, reading the screen, or a mixture of the two), these should be broken up by periods of non-intensive, non-display screen work. Where work cannot be so organised, e.g. in jobs requiring only data or text entry requiring sustained attention and concentration, deliberate breaks or pauses must be introduced.
Where the display screen work involves intensive use of the keyboard, any activity that would demand broadly similar use of the arms or hands should be avoided during breaks. Similarly, if the display screen work is visually demanding any activities during breaks should be of a different visual character. Breaks must also allow users to vary their posture. Exercise routines which include blinking, stretching and focusing eyes on distant objects can be helpful and could be covered in training programmes.
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It is not appropriate to lay down requirements for breaks which apply to all types of work; it is the nature and mix of demands made by the job which determine the length of break necessary to prevent fatigue. But some general guidance can be given:
- breaks should be taken before the onset of fatigue, not in order to recuperate and when performance is at a maximum, before productivity reduces. The timing of the break is more important than its length;
- breaks or changes of activity should be included in working time. They should reduce the workload at the screen, i.e. should not result in a higher pace or intensity of work on account of their introduction;
- short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer breaks: e.g., 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 2 hours;
- if possible, breaks should be taken away from the screen;
- Informal breaks, that is time spent not viewing the screen (e.g. on other tasks), appear from study evidence to be more effective in relieving visual fatigue than formal rest breaks;
- wherever practicable, users should be allowed some discretion as to how they carry out tasks; individual control over the nature and pace of work allows optimal distribution of effort over the working day.
L26, Display Screen Equipment Work - Guidance on Regulations, (ISBN 0717604101- available from HSE Books)