Are smartphones Display Screen Equipment

Are smartphones Display Screen Equipment?

The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations pre-date the launch of the iPhone and even the Blackberry – so do they cover smartphone use? Specsavers Corporate Eyecare takes a look at why it’s not about the size of the screen, but what you do with it that counts.

At the end of 2017, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare undertook research¹ to find out how widespread the use of smartphones is in the workplace and whether safety managers are providing the associated eye care. An independent survey of over 500 senior decision-makers in UK companies was carried out and suggested that employers class two-thirds (66%) of their employees as ‘smartphone users’. However, only 18% of employers stated they provide eye care for some smartphone users in the business and just a quarter (25%) of employers provided eye care for all their smartphone users.

What do employers need to know?

Under the regulations, DSE is defined as ‘any alphanumeric or graphic display screen, regardless of the display process involved’. Which means smartphones can be counted as DSE, despite not being in existence when the regulations were drawn up.

Equally important, however, is what is not counted as DSE. In article four of the legislation it states that the regulations do not apply to vehicle cabs, screens on transport, screens mainly intended for pubic operation, calculators, cash registers, or equipment with a display for direct use of the item, window typewriters, or – crucially – portable systems ‘not in prolonged use’. It is, therefore, the length of time for which an employee uses the DSE that is important, over and above the type or size of screen. While there are no specified times to categorise ‘prolonged use’, it would seem reasonable to assume that a smartphone used for a significant part of an employee’s working role – to view and respond to emails for example –  would count as DSE under the regulations. 

This is backed up by the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance booklet ‘Work with display screen equipment’ which refers to mobile phones that can be used to compose and edit text, view images, or connect to the internet: i.e. smartphones. In it, the HSE states specifically that: ‘Any prolonged use of such devices for work purposes will be subject to the DSE regulations.’

The guidance also makes it clear that phones in prolonged use for spoken conversations are excluded, because their display screens are incidental to this use. So, as with all DSE, an employee’s working patterns would need to be assessed to consider type, length and frequency of use, and how dependent someone’s role is on the use of a phone.

Eye care for all

Whether we like it or not, smartphones are now ubiquitous in the workplace and being used increasingly for a wide variety of working practices. The DSE regulations were first put in place to ensure that employees benefited from regular eye tests if they regularly worked with a PC screen, but for many this has now transferred to small, hand-held smartphone screens. The fact that smartphones are included under the DSE regulations at all is a positive one, therefore – meaning that employees who use them a lot for work will benefit from the same health and safety protection as their desk-based colleagues. 

Specsavers Corporate Eyecare says: ‘We urge all safety managers not just to consider eligibility, but to provide eye care to all employees, irrespective of their use of screens, large or small. As well as helping to manage more minor conditions, such as headaches and eye strain – which can have a positive effect on wellbeing and, therefore, on productivity – regular eye checks can help to detect and monitor serious eye health issues.

  1. Research undertaken by Opinium on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare in November 2017 among 502 senior decision makers in UK businesses
  2. www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l26.htm

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