RSI Solicitor, Bill Singer, gives advice and insight into how upper limbs can be affected by the use of computer monitors
Musculoskeletal problems affect thousands of workers across the UK every year, however, probably one of the most common forms are known as Upper Limb Disorders (ULD’s). ULD’s usually affect the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists and even fingers and can cause a great deal of pain and distress for sufferer.
ULD’S in the work place are very commonly caused by repetitive strain Injury but posture and workspace can also contribute and cause upper limb problems.
One of the factors which could increase the risk of causing problems with your upper limbs is the use of computer monitors. Many employers and employees do not know the risks associated with use of computer monitors. A poorly arranged work station or unsuitable computer monitor can cause neck, shoulder, arm and wrist injuries. In many cases these types of injuries do not resolve in the short term, but can cause considerable pain and discomfort for prolonged periods.
Roberts Jackson provides legal support and advice for employees who may have been affected on their upper limbs associated with use of computer monitors. This week we sat with one of our specialist solicitors, Bill Singer, who has dealt with many cases where the upper limbs have been affected. He took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the issues employers and employees should be aware of when using computer monitors including the potential risks to the upper limbs:
How can computer monitors cause problems with your upper limbs?
“The kind of work involved when using computer monitors isn’t generally heavy or forceful work so the problems that would arise from this type of work would be more postural or repetitive. Employees using this equipment and performing majority of their duties at their work station are normally using their neck and their upper limbs.
Extensive typing at a fast pace and with no breaks is likely to cause wrist problems in certain people. Due other combining factors such as types of office chairs, distance away from the keyboard or even desk equipment can cause posture problems in the neck and shoulders.”
Are there grounds in certain situations to bring a claim if you’ve been using this equipment incorrectly or if your employer has not done a risk assessment properly?
“I think in these sorts of cases employers breach of duty isn’t the main issue. The main issue is normally proving that the injury and desk set up is linked. Things we have to consider are for example what is the diagnosis? Or, is it a work related condition? You can actually find breaches in the law or regulations relatively easily. For example, if you were to go to any office in the country and you asked the employees working there if they had a workplace desk assessment for health and safety reasons, the majority would answer “No”.
The contentious area would be whether the lack of assessment has caused an injury. What we would need to show to prove that your work is the blame is, if a workplace risk assessment had been provided and it found that the desk wasn’t adequate and it needed changes. The argument would be if those recommended changes were made in time then the employee would not have gone on to suffer problems with their upper limbs. This could establish a link between you workspace and the injury.”
Is it mandatory for employees to provide desk assessments?
“It’s one of the central requirements of the regulations. It’s not limited to a certain type of worker. It’s based upon whether you work with this equipment. You don’t have to spend all day using computer monitors. Under the regulations the employer has to provide the assessment.”
Who would carry out the desk assessments and do they need to be experienced or qualified?
“The person would only need a basic level of training. They wouldn’t need particular qualifications to carry out these assessments, but they would need some qualifications and experience in order to carry out the assessment properly. They are sometimes done in house maybe by someone in the HR department. However most companies especially the larger ones whose desk assessments I’ve seen, tend to get external companies who specialise in occupational health and ergonomics to do the assessments.”
What are the more common types of injury that you see?
“The most common types of injury I see now are wrist, fingers and hands. In terms of the upper limbs I see more of the lower part of the upper limbs than the upper parts such as the shoulders and elbows. In terms of back injuries, anything from the thoracic to the cervical spine because some display screens require you to look at them with your head down or to one side or operate them in an awkward posture.”
Would you say that there has been a any increase in these types of cases in the time you have been running them?
“Not since I’ve been running them, but there probably has been since the introduction of the display screen regulations in 1992. Since that time there has been recognition that this type of work is potentially unsafe and carries a particular risk to the upper limbs.
Many problems with upper limbs are self-limiting which go away after a short period of time without anybody considering making a claim. Many employees who suffer from problems with their upper limbs don’t seek medical attention straight away and if they do they aren’t necessarily told they have a diagnosis of Upper Limb Disorder.”
What steps can employees take to minimise the risk of Upper limb disorders when using Computer screens at desks?
“Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employees have a duty to take care of their own health and safety. If they’ve been trained or know that a bad posture when sat at their desk can cause certain health risks to their upper limbs then they have a duty to follow the training they’ve been given. Employers can argue that any employee is to blame if they haven’t used the proper posture which may have contributed to their condition.”
What steps should employers be following?
“Employers would need to provide employees with a workstation assessment, tell them how to sit and set up their work station correctly. They would also need to keep a record of this to prove that they have met their duty of care.”
What should someone do if they believe use of a computer monitors is causing problems with their upper limbs?
“If they’ve already sought medical attention and been given a diagnosis of upper limb disorder and if it affects them at work then it’s very important to let their employer know. Their employer should provide them with a risk assessment. Employers should do what they can to support them and not exacerbate their condition. If employers fail to do that then I would advise employees contact Roberts Jackson Solicitors for further legal advice because they may have grounds for a claim.
Our Musculoskeletal department is one of the most experienced in the UK, our specialist team have progressed hundreds of upper limb disorder cases to a successful conclusion.”
To speak to Bill or a member of the firm’s musculoskeletal team you can call Roberts Jackson Solicitors Monday to Friday between 9am-5pm. Freephone: 0333 1 200 200. Alternatively, you can leave us a message or request a call back on our website at any time and we will get back to you within 24 hours.