It is 20 years since the Health & Safety “Six Pack” was launched. As we enter the third decade of DSE assessments and management, I have been reflecting on that part of the Six Pack with which I have been most involved: the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 – and how people have responded to it.
There have been enormous changes since January 1993, not just in the computers people use but in the nature of work and workplaces.
The most conspicuous change is obviously in the technology. When the Regulations first came into force, a “portable computer” weighed about the same as a sack of coal and, if not exclusively mains-powered, had a battery life equivalent to a teenager’s attention span. The 2002 amendments to the Regulations recognised the challenges created by laptop technology advances. However, they did not in any way anticipate the dramatic changes to work habits and data access that would come about through wi-fi, cloud computing, tablets and smartphones.
Just when we thought we had a grip on the physical answers to musculo-skeletal problems for computer users, along comes “iPad shoulder” and “smartphone finger”!
Equally important (especially right now) are the issues of Smart Working, stress at work (something we hardly considered in the nineties) and changing attitudes to work amongst those now entering the workforce.
Rather than contemplate the evolution of approaches to the Regulations, it is probably easier to consider the fundamental differences (as I see them) in our thinking about office ergonomics between when they started and what we do now. Here are some thoughts:
- 20 years ago, most people could barely spell ergonomics, let alone understand what it meant. Today, most people have a view about what it is but this is very often partial or even skewed. “It’s about chairs” is a common theme but a worrying number of those with a view seem to have learned what they know from product brochures or assumptions drawn from other experiences.
- The word “ergonomic” seems to have been hijacked by marketing people and used as a generic adjective to describe just about anything. Where a justification for its use is provided, the justification may not be particularly robust.
- The constant flow of new computer input devices seems to be unending. As Logitech, Microsoft, and now even Apple, introduce more products claiming better ergonomics benefits, new specialist designers and manufacturers continue to appear and several of these make claims negating the benefits claimed for other products! Again, the manufacturer’s marketing budget (rather than ergonomics benefits) often seems to be the driving force in the popularity of such products.
- Workplace stress is very much more of a topic. Since the economy changed in 2008, presenteeism has been come a real issue. We find there is a stress element to growing numbers of the musculo-skeletal issues we are asked to address and it is essential that these problems are addressed in a holistic manner.
- The disparity between pro-active organisations and those who regard every personnel welfare issue as a cost to be minimised (or avoided) is probably larger than it ever was. Indeed, the dynamic, investing employers are becoming more and more sophisticated whilst others, especially in the current economic climate, slip further behind.
As I have started to think about this, it becomes clear that there is much more to say but this is more than enough for one article! I have made notes for at least two more pieces that will spin out of this. As usual, I make no claims to being comprehensive in my analysis and welcome comments, thoughts or constructive arguments!