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Occupational Health


Ergonomics is the science of making machines and systems fit the user, and not making the user fit the system. Ergonomics incorporates elements from many subjects including anatomy, physiology, psychology and design to ensure that products and environments are comfortable, safe and efficient for people to use.

The term upper-limb disorder (ULD) is an umbrella term that refers to health related problems effecting the shoulder, neck and arm, including the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands and fingers.

If time is spent assessing and ensuring that the ergonomics associated with a job role are suitable and sufficient for the worker from the outset then the risk of health problems can be significantly reduced.

Health problems commonly associated with computer use include:

  • musculoskeletal problems such as back ache and upper limb disorders (often referred to as a repetitive strain injury or RSI)
  • mental stress caused by an increased pace or pressure to meet deadlines, system problems or insufficient training to operate system
  • visual problems and headaches.

The majority of problems can be avoided by ensuring optimum work set up and correct posture prior to commencing work.

Visual problems may include - blurred vision, sore eyes and headaches and normally due to muscle fatigue. There is no evidence that using computers can cause disease or permanent damage to the eyes.

Mental stress may include tiredness and / or loss of concentration.

Risk assessment – reducing the risk

As with any other potential occupational health hazard the key to preventing problems is through the risk assessment process.  Many computer associated health problems can be prevented by improving your workstation set-up, use and posture. Increased rest breaks, improved job design and software also help.

Legislation guiding work with VDUs and the University DSE Policy require that a risk assessment (DSE Policy appendix 4) is undertaken so that all computer users are correctly set-up at their workstations.  Assessments should be carried out for all new employees or when significant changes are made to an existing workstation, such as undertaking a significant proportion of work from home.

The Working Safely with DSE - Desktop/General and Working Safely with DSE - Laptops leaflets provide information on preventing computer health problems including correct computer work set up and posture.

Reporting problems

Following the risk assessment staff - including post graduate students - should discuss any identified problems with their manager and / or Departmental Safety Officer (DSO).  If the person is experiencing significant musculoskeletal problems a referral to Occupational Health for an assessment should be arranged to ensure necessary medical advice in relation to the presenting problem as well as the work environment, plus or minus treatment, is given.  Where appropriate an Occupational Health Adviser (OHA) may visit the workplace to observe the individual's work activities and make recommendations with regards any necessary workplace modifications e.g. posture and / or work environment, and discuss these with the employee and their supervisor.

Undergraduate students should seek advice from their GP and the Disability Resource Centre