Making sense of DSE regulations in the hybrid working world

Making sense of DSE regulations in the hybrid working world

Research shows that even before the pandemic employers were struggling to understand DSE assessment regulations and working from home health and safety.

One study carried out by Specsavers showed that less than half of employers said they fully understood DSE assessment/desk assessment regulations. Even more striking in their results was the fact that less than 30% of employers were in full compliance.

We surveyed leaders in HR and health and safety from companies ranging from 100 to 10,000 employees from multiple countries to understand how companies are approaching DSE assessment compliance and desk worker injury prevention both in the office and especially remotely.

What were the results?

Across the survey results a few messages were extremely clear:

  • Employers care about wellbeing and productivity. They are happy to put budget into improving these and are running a variety of initiatives
  • However, employers need more information to aid decision-making. They don’t know what their employees’ needs are, how to measure them or how best to address them
  • Employers don’t understand their legal requirements or compliance particularly in complex, multinational firms.
What have employers tried?

Over 70% of employers surveyed acted early in the pandemic to provide employees with healthier and safer workspaces while working from home. Activities varied from providing work-from-home budgets for employees to spend as they saw fit to organising transport of equipment from offices to homes.

In many cases, employees didn’t understand how to best use these budgets to improve their workspaces. One survey respondent reported an employee using the work from home budget to buy a puppy (arguably beneficial for stress and burnout, but not ergonomics!).

In almost all cases, there was minimal understanding of the quality of workspaces that employees ended up with. Basically employers were never able to measure the impact or return on their investment.

What’s the trend?

While the past 18 months were focused on keeping team morale, engagement and productivity high, attention has now turned to longer-term understanding and planning for remote or hybrid working including ensuring compliance with employer’s regulatory requirements.

The majority of employers surveyed have seen an increase in complaints for back or other musculoskeletal pain since the beginning of remote working.

In general, employers have worked hard to limit the damage of the disruption in workspaces and working habits but now the focus is shifting to planning for the long term and dealing with the issues that have emerged.

What about compliance?

Only 10% of employers say that they fully understand workspace regulations for DSE / desk assessments that involves at least some remote working and that they are confident their team’s setups comply. While less than half of employers have records of what standard of workspace their teams are working at remotely.

Several multinational companies who managed health and safety, HR and wellbeing centrally reported substantial difficulty managing the varying regulations in different countries.

One company surveyed who is consistently named as a top place to work in the world provided extremely generous work from home budgets. However, when examining the effects of this spend three months later, it was found that employees were not substantially better set up to work remotely than they were before the budget and were only marginally closer to regulatory compliance.

This is backed up by responses to Vitrue surveys with desk workers showing that 7/10 do not know the correct height for a monitor to minimise neck and back strain, 8/10 do not take the advised breaks throughout the day, 5/10 who have a standing desk don’t know the advised usage and when asked if they perform any stretches or preventative exercises throughout their week, 8/10 said they wouldn’t know what to do.

What are the actual requirements?

Research carried out at Vitrue shows that a large majority of countries include regulations on the type of workspace that employers must provide for desk workers whether working remotely or in the office. In most countries, though pre-2020 regulations mostly focused on in-office workers and did not apply to remote employees, the requirements for remote workers have mostly been updated to be very similar to those in the office.

Broadly, regulations across countries include two core requirements

  1. Employers must assess the suitability of a desk workers’ workspace, particularly an ergonomic assessment of quality of the workspace.
  2. Employers must train employees on how to work safely in their environment not only around ergonomics and equipment but also healthy behaviours like frequent breaks.

Employers who do not comply with both requirements are likely to be in direct breach of the regulations.

International regulations

Below you can see just how widespread DSE assessment regulations are (this is an indication of requirements rather than an exhaustive list – see links for more details!):

Area Regulatory agency Desk worker assessment regulations Specific requirements
UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) As an employer, you must protect your workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE), such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Regulations apply to workers who use this equipment for an hour a day (or more). – do a DSE workstation assessment
– reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks from DSE work or do something different
– provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
provide training and information for workers
EU European Agency for Safety and Health at Work EU Directive 90/270 sets out the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment. A directive is a legal act provided for in the EU Treaty. It is binding in its entirety and has been transposed to law by 22 EU countries Employers shall be obliged to perform an analysis of workstations in order to evaluate the safety and health conditions to which they give rise for their workers, particularly as regards possible risks to:

– eyesight
– physical problems
– problems of mental stress

Employers shall take appropriate measures to remedy the risks found, taking account of the additional and/or combined effects of the risks so found.
US Occupational Safety & Health Administration + local state bodies OSH Act 1970 General Duty Clause (federal law) – an employer has an obligation to keep the workplace free from hazards, which include ergonomic hazards.
OSHA also encourages employers to implement effective programs and measures to reduce ergonomic hazards and associated MSDs where necessary. To assist employers in decreasing known risk factors, OSHA has developed voluntary industry-specific guidelines for minimizing injuries. This is specifically focused on MSD (Musculoskeletal Disorders).
A large number of states have also implemented their own ergonomic standards. 
 The compliance with the General Duty Clause is assessed on the following four criteria:

– whether an ergonomic hazard exists
– whether that hazard is recognised
– whether the hazard is causing, or is likely to cause, serious physical harm to employees
– whether a feasible means exists to reduce the hazard

The musculoskeletal disorder guidelines focus on:

– Identifying problems
– Involving workers
– Encouraging early reporting of MSD symptoms
– Evaluating progress
– Providing training
Australia Safe Work Australia The model Work Health and Safety laws deal with the DSE and other requirements to ensure employers set their employees up to work safely. States and territories are each responsible for their own implementation of the laws. The requirements are quite extensive and are outlined here. Employers should:

– Provide guidance and education on proper ergonomic set up of workstations
– Require employees to complete a workspace assessment and share answers with them
– Consider employees environment including ventilation, lighting and noise
– Educate on the risks of sedentary behaviour
– Provide support and information for both mental and physical wellbeing

You can read more about DSE and desk assessment regulations and your duty of care as an employer in our whitepaper (being published in September).


Shane is CEO and co-founder at Vitrue Health.

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