University Health, Safety & Environment Service

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Many people believe that office work is "low risk". However aches and pains related to desk work, particularly computer use, are becoming increasingly common.

There are simple changes that you can make to reduce the likelihood of these problems occurring, and to reduce or eliminate problems that have already been experienced.


This page is being revised to co-ordinate with a forthcoming new online system for workstation assessment. There is a guidance page being prepared for use with the online assessment. In the meantime, please continue to use the paper assessment form on this page (in the Basics box). Please use the information in the new guidance page, as this is replacing information that was previously displayed on this and other pages.

Back to Staying Safe and Well: Workstations

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Basics: self-assessment

Use this poster as a brief guide to help you set up your desk and equipment to minimise awkward postures or any need to twist or stretch. Complete a paper self-assessment to ensure you have looked at all aspects of your workstation. Some departments have a local assessor who can help you check that your workstation is optimally set up.

Computer settings (pointer speed, screen contrast, ...)

Don't assume that you have to live with the computer settings you have.

You can change the monitor settings (e.g. brightness, contrast, colour settings) using buttons usually placed underneath the front of the monitor. If you aren't sure, ask for assistance from Computing Services.

For other settings, in Microsoft, go to the Start button and select Control Panel from the menu. Explore the possibilities offered by changing the mouse or keyboard settings. For example, choose 'Mouse' and the 'Pointer Options' tab will allow you to change the pointer speed and the appearance of the pointer. You can try it out before you select 'Apply' to put the new settings into operation. You may need assistance from Computing Services if you wish to change other settings, depending on what admin rights you have on your computer.

Your working day: Work planning and task alternation

No-one need feel that they are 'chained' to their desks all day. Planning your day in advance will help you to factor in periods when you can get up and do other things. You can also use natural task alternation as an opportunity to get up and move around. Making a cup of tea, standing to answer the phone or while reading a document, or walking to speak to someone in the next office instead of sending an email, can all be ways of getting up out of your chair.

Working away from your normal desk or working at home

All use of display screen equipment should be risk assessed. This need not be difficult or time-consuming. Use these flow-charts to help you make a rapid assessment of any short-term or one-off tasks, meetings, etc., or working at home.

Portable equipment (laptops, iPad, etc.)

For users of laptops or other portable equipment, the risk of musculo-skeletal injury is higher and increases greatly the more you use these types of equipment.

If you habitually use any portable equipment, it is vital that you are self-disciplined in how you use the equipment. Ensure you maintain a sensible posture and take frequent breaks from using the equipment. If you hold the equipment in one hand, ensure that you stretch the muscles periodically to help prevent muscle fatigue and avoid the risk of 'iPad hand' (a version of trigger finger where the fingers become locked and rigid).

If you use a laptop for more than short periods, you should use a laptop stand and a separate mouse and keyboard so that you can maintain a suitable posture and hand/finger positions.

For further advice on choosing and using portable equipment, see Guidance for use of portable IT and Posture Guidance for Handheld Devices.

Additional training in use of software

Many people are largely self-taught in most aspects of office applications and have built up habitual ways of performing their every-day tasks. Not all of these are the most efficient way of doing things! BUCS runs courses including those suitable for even the most advanced users to refresh and update their skills.


  • If you frequently need to type or take notes while on the telephone, use a headset to avoid needing to tuck the phone's handset between your shoulder and head.
  • Document holders can be placed between the keyboard and monitor (or, if you are a touch-typist, to the side of the monitor) to make it easier to refer to them while you are typing.
  • If you need to listen to something on your computer, use headphones or earphones to avoid disturbing those around you.

Office lighting

Don't forget to check for glare and reflections on your equipment that can make it more difficult to see comfortably. If possible, arrange your office furniture to minimise such difficulties. Use window blinds if necessary. Diffusers can be fitted to office lighting if you can't find a desk position that reduces glare and reflections from the room lights. You will need to make a works request to Estates if you require diffusers or blinds fitting.

Eye tests and glasses for computer use

Computer users are entitled to have their eye tests paid for by their employer. If the eye test shows that they need glasses for computer work, and their normal glasses (if worn) are not suitable, their employer must provide suitable glasses. The University will reimburse the cost of the test and will pay a sum equivalent to the cost of a basic pair of glasses as a contribution towards glasses of the users choice. Check the Finance Office web page for details.

Still having problems?

If your department assessor has been unable to resolve your difficulties, or you are experiencing persistent aches and pain, or you have a health condition that affects how you use a computer workstation, please send a copy of your most recent self-assessment or departmental assessment to with as much detail as you can about your difficulties. One of us will contact you to arrange an in-depth assessment and advise you on the next steps. If it is decided that you may benefit from special equipment or software, UHSE will refer you to the BUCS  Supporter for Assistive Technologies who will advise and assist in the choice of appropriate solutions.

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