DSE Guidance: Creating a Makeshift Workspace at Home

June 22, 2020
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The last few months have seen a huge shift in people working from home as many different types of workspaces shut down to protect people from COVID-19. As we have adapted quickly to this need, some workers haven’t been able to take the time to set up their workstations at home correctly. Furthermore, many of us are lacking the proper equipment to make sure that we are working from home safely. 

Recent surveys of homeworkers found that 80% of us are using makeshift solutions, such as using cushions to make chairs comfier, and thick books or board game boxes as monitor risers. Two out of five office staff are now working in an “inappropriate” home-working environment. However, a number of businesses are reporting that employees are reluctant to return to 100% office-based work, and even when we are able to go back to our offices, many of us will be looking to split our time between office and home based work. Combine this with indicators of increased productivity from home workers, and reduced overheads for businesses, it certainly looks like working from home will continue to be normal for the foreseeable future.

With this in mind, it is essential we ensure that we all have everything set up correctly so to avoid any further stresses and strains on our health and wellbeing. 

What is DSE and Why is it Important to Understand When Working Remotely?

DSE stands for Display Screen Equipment and refers to devices or equipment that have an alphanumeric or graphic display screen. For example, computer display screens, laptops, touch screens and other similar devices. As part of the Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations 1992, employers have a duty to ensure that employees who use DSE regularly as part of their work do so safely. This means they have to identify risks to those using DSE and take steps to help eliminate or reduce these risks. 

Man working from home on laptop

If you spend hours of your day looking at DSE, it is important to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk from doing so. Just because you are no longer out ‘at work’ does not mean the risks from DSE stop. Often, our home environments can pose additional risks that you wouldn’t find in your average office workspace, and your employer must help you identify these and protect you from them. 

What are the Hazards Associated With Display Screen Equipment?

Failure to correctly set up your DSE can result in lots of problems. Some you will notice right away after using the equipment for a short period of time. Other issues will be the result of minuscule adjustments that will take longer to transpire. You may also find you are increasingly stressed at your home workstation and this could be due to using a difficult set up, not having the right equipment you need, or even computer faults and crashes. 

Some of the most common hazards from incorrect DSE set up are backache, neck pain, headache, problems with your eyesight and wrist discomfort. Have you noticed any new niggles or tweaks in those areas since you’ve begun using your new working from home setup? Furthermore, our home environments can often be noisy, cramped, not always very well lit and difficult to achieve a good consistent temperature. All these factors could be contributing to a hazardous working environment.

What are my Employer’s Responsibilities? 

We know that a DSE assessment is a part of health and safety law and it is a legal requirement for employers to carry out an assessment for all employees. Where employees are working at home, employers continue to have a duty to make sure they have the correct working environment. This could mean the employees themselves will need to complete a self assessment of their work station. 

For the self-employed, they too should complete a self assessment of their working environment. Even though they will be responsible for ensuring they have the set up and equipment they need, it will benefit their health and safety and so shouldn’t be ignored. Any assessment needs to be carried out by someone who has received training in being a DSE Assessor

Despite this being a legal requirement, over a third of office workers say they have never heard of this regulation, half of workers say they have never had an assessment done on their workstation, and 60% of workers have invested their own money in making their workstation more ergonomically comfortable – something their employer is responsible for. Consider the statistics from the HSE for 2018/19 that show that 600,000 people reported suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety, a further 498,000 suffered from musculoskeletal disorders, of which 41% were upper limb disorders such as back ache, neck pain and repetitive strain disorders. Don’t become one of these statistics – ensure you make the changes now to protect your health.

What Can You Do to Work Safer? 

Our free DSE checklist will help you assess whether the risks from your workstation need further action. By undertaking a DSE assessment with it, you will be able to comply with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 and ensure your DSE is set up ergonomically. If you are self-employed, you can still complete the checklist: remember to be honest with your answers and implement the controls you need to make sure your work station is set up correctly. 

When you have completed your checklist, and any training you need to take alongside it, you may have identified controls that need implementing to make sure your work space is safe, such as monitor risers, a wrist support, or lumbar support. If your employer refuses to help you implement any reasonable adjustments so you can work safely, you can seek advice from the HSE. 

Makeshift Solutions & Tips for a Working from Home Setup

Whilst in an ideal world everyone would have a designated home office, where we have all the tools and equipment needed to work in a way that engages and revitalises us, in practise this often just isn’t the case. If you don’t have the ideal set up, you must complete a thorough assessment of your workspace and identify what changes you need to make. We will advise on some makeshift solutions and work from home tips below to help you reduce the hazards associated with poor DSE.

Where should my desk be?

You may be limited in your options here – depending on the size of your home and how many people you share the space with – but when creating a workspace at home, choose somewhere away from distractions and separate to your ‘chill out’ areas, such as your sofa or bedroom. Try to have your set up somewhere with space around you so that you don’t feel hemmed in and stressed out. It should also be somewhere well lit so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your eyes. Move lamps, furniture and seating around until you get the best set up you can. With lighting, low level is better so opt for desk lamps where you can.

How to make your kitchen counter work as your desk

It’s not ideal, but it is sometimes necessary to work somewhere that doesn’t easily lend itself to being a ‘desk’. In order to make the space work for you, make sure you can sit straight, facing your DSE front on. Your arms should be at a 90 angle when typing and wrists should be supported by a wrist support, or the work surface. The ‘H’ key on your keyboard should line up with the centre of your body and when sitting up straight, your eyes should be level with the top of the monitor. To achieve this you may need to use books to raise the monitors or keyboard up. 

woman works from kitchen counter

If you are working on a laptop consider investing in a laptop riser, and you should use a separate keyboard and mouse. Placing the screen at the correct height is essential – a lever arch file can help if you don’t have a separate keyboard and mouse, as the sloping angle will ease some of the strain on your wrists, arms and neck. Be aware that using a laptop for a long time means your neck will be angled down towards the screen. If this is unavoidable, make sure you take frequent breaks and stretch to loosen up your neck and back muscles. 

When your desk is fine, but your chair is not

Many of us have created good work spaces at the kitchen or dining table, and whilst the table height is similar to that of an office desk, often the chairs are lower and nowhere near the standard of the office chair. One of the biggest challenges here is the lack of flexibility provided by dining chairs. If you can source another one from elsewhere in your home, preferably one with arm rests, do that. If not, there are a number of makeshift tricks to try. 

You can buy ergonomic foam support cushions if you need to be higher in the chair, and you can also get ergonomic back supports. However, a rolled up towel will also provide firm lumbar support, and cushions can lift you up in your seat. Hard table edges can be softened by placing a small towel folded over them to rest your forearms on. Likewise, folded blankets over the top of hard-backed chairs can make them more comfortable.

If you have managed to get a good chair to use at your kitchen or dining table, you might find your feet are struggling to rest on the floor. If this is the case, grab another stack of books or invest in a foot rest. You want your feet to be flat on the ground when your knees are at a 90° angle so as to avoid putting pressure on your thighs and hips. 

woman work at home with cushion and blanket on chair

How to create a standing desk at home

The freedom of movement that a standing desk brings you is hard to replicate on your typical home furniture. If you want to set up a DIY standing desk, it is important to get your levels right. The same principles apply as if you were sitting down: you should be able to stand face on to your monitor(s) and keyboard with your eyes level with the top of the screen, and your screen should be an arms length away from your eyes. Your keyboard should be lined up so the G, H, and B keys are central to you, and your arms should be bent 90° so you can easily reach the keyboard and mouse.

To do this, you will need to find a sturdy base for your monitors and keyboard. Items such wooden boxes or small tables on top of the dining table, for example, could be used to set monitors on, whilst keyboards could be elevated on books. Make sure your keyboard has enough space around it for you to also rest your arms and use your mouse. If you are working from a laptop, it should fit fairly well on an ironing board… just make sure it is correctly set up and won’t collapse on you mid zoom call! Setting it against a wall will give it extra support.

We may have left the office in a hurry but it looks like many employees won’t be quick to return. Working from home is here to stay, and so understanding and assessing your own DSE health and safety is a skill you should look to adopt and maintain. Once you understand what you need to have in order to be working in the best environment, you can take steps to achieve this. 

No doubt there are lots of expensive gadgets available to purchase that will transform your kitchen counter – or ironing board – into an office last seen at Google HQ. But for those who don’t have access to these, or at least not yet, implementing makeshift ways to stay safe and healthy when working from home are just as important. We hope this article has helped explain some of the key points of good DSE and why it is so important, as well as giving you ideas and tips to improve your own home office. 

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