Injury & Compensation

Importance of a well-designed workstation

Article exclusively contributed by
Staff Management Consultancy Ltd

The Occupational Safety and Health (Display Screen Equipment) Regulation ("the Regulation") came into effect on 4 July, 2003 after a 12-month grace period. It was designed specifically to protect the safety and health of employees using display screen equipment in the workplace for prolonged periods of time.

Mr Chan, as an HR manager in a company with approximately 500 employees, carefully studied the Regulation after it was approved in April 2002 and started planning how to implement it effectively within his firm.

He knew that the basic aim of the Regulation was to protect the health of employees using display screen equipment (DSE) for several hours every day. Therefore, he had to determine whether the company's employees could be regarded as "users" as defined in the Regulation. With the cooperation of the IT manager, he first identified employees who were provided with DSE, such as computer monitors or microfilm viewers and, subsequently, those required to use their screens continuously for at least four hours a day or, cumulatively, for six hours or more during a day. He knew that, in determining this, the continuity of use should be broken by rest periods of not more than 10 minutes per hour away from the DSE. As a result, about 150 employees were classified as "users".

Mr Chan then decided to spend three months undertaking a risk assessment of users' workstations. Referring to the checklist published by the Labour Department, he examined the arrangement of all workstations including DSE, chairs, desks, work surfaces, printers, document holders and peripheral items, as well as the immediate working environment. Consequently, he was able to identify potential risks to the safety and health of users and decide whether existing measures were sufficient or if further actions were necessary to effect improvements.

After completing the full assessment, Mr Chan kept all employees informed by announcing the results in the company's monthly staff newsletter. In addition, he provided guidelines and conducted workshops to explain the need for taking proper precautionary measures, such as adopting the correct posture when working regularly with a screen. As a result, employees became more aware of occupational safety practices and showed enhanced motivation and efficiency levels.

Q & A on safety considerations for the use of workstations and display screen equipment
Q1 What are the employer's obligations under the Regulation?
A1 Employers are required to perform a risk assessment of all workstations before they are used or, alternatively, an employee can be nominated as risk assessor and perform the task. Whenever a workstation is significantly changed, employers should review the assessment and revise their records. They should take all reasonable steps to minimise any risks identified in the assessment and, as far as practicable, should:
- keep records of all assessments done, including any revisions, for at least two years after the workstation ceases to be used by anyone. The records should be available for inspection upon request by an occupational safety officer
- provide users with the results of the assessment, as well as a record of actions taken to reduce any risks
- ensure workstations are suitable for users and take account of safety and health considerations
- provide safety and health training in the use of workstations.

Q2 What are the obligations of a user?
A2 A user should, as far as reasonably practicable, conform to any system of work practice developed by the employer to comply with the Regulation, and also observe any preventive measures to reduce the risks identified in an assessment.

Q3 Who is responsible for performing the risk assessment?
A3 Under the Regulation, the person responsible for the workplace should perform a risk assessment of a workstation in the workplace. It may be either the employer or the occupier of the workplace.

Q4 Does the Regulation apply to all workstations?
A4 No. The Regulation applies to a workstation which is:
(a) provided by a person responsible for the workplace to be used for work
(b) not intended for use by the public.
Additionally, the Regulation applies to DSE applications, but excluding:
(a) DSE used mainly to show pictures, television or films
(b) drivers' cabs or control cabs for vehicles or machinery
(c) DSE on board public transport
(d) portable systems not in prolonged use
(e) calculators, cash registers or any equipment with a small data or measurement display
(f) window typewriters.

Q5 What are the penalties under the Regulation?
A5 A5 The person responsible for the workplace or a user who fails to comply with the provisions of the Regulation commits an offence and is liable to a maximum fine of HK$50,000 or HK$10,000 respectively.

Q6 Is there any protection for employees who are not "users" as defined in the Regulation?
A6 Despite the Regulation only being intended to protect those using DSE at work for prolonged periods of time, the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance stipulates that every employer must, as far as reasonably practicable, ensure the safety and health at work of all employees.

Taken from Career Times 19 March 2004

(Last review date: 23 August 2013)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributor.

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