One year ago I responded to an urgent request – to do an assessment of the new equipment about to be ordered for all display screen equipment (DSE) users. In order to buy the equipment, it was the policy that health and safety had to approve equipment purchases. The implicit message is – it’s good to go – can you just give us the rubber stamp of approval? I had a few hours before the deadline.
First, I looked at the chair with its customary 5 pronged star wheeled feet and then the process of finding what all the levers and buttons do. Most office chairs have similar functions it’s just a case of finding them without being projected violently across the room. All seemed in order with only slight whiplash as I fiddled with all the buttons and levers.
Next come the table – swish, smooth flowing lines, pure melamine white with height adjusters for those who, in Goldilocks words, are too tall or too short. I definitely belong in the second group. Again, all looks ok. I could imagine the tables and chairs set out on a pristine floor looking beautiful. But that’s before the workers get their hands on them.
Gradually adaptations would start to creep in and show where the problems were.
1. Where are the back supports? DSE users need (or believe they need) back (lumbar) support and these chairs although compliant with the DSE regs would soon be adorned with all sorts of add-ons such as cushions and rolled up towels. Not quite the look expected!
2. The white table, although my favourite colour, would soon become grubby and marked by print and stains. White would need constant cleaning to keep its pristine appearance. In addition, white tends to reflect the light even if the surface sold as non-reflecting. In today’s high-rise and open plan offices, sunlight is lovely but is a nuisance when trying to do screen work. Trying to cut down reflections on screens by closing blinds is easy in single occupancy offices but in shared space, it can cause near riots. Why not design out the issue from day one and have light absorbing surfaces?
3. The table height adjusters whilst an expensive add-on would need altering by facilities staff and that, I am sure you know, takes a while to happen. There is no other way to do it, no simple handle and how many ‘hot deskers’ would have the time or even know the system to do that? Not many at all, so the height adjustments would never be used in the recommended way.
4. What about those who need two screens on the table? There were plugs embedded in the desk for 3 outlets and many of us use more than that to charge our mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices. The configuration of this needed reviewing.
5. Noise and privacy issues need considering too. The surfaces of the desks would bounce sound around and trying to keep your work to yourself is difficult. Sound and privacy barriers would help also. Again not part of the DSE regs but makes work so much more comfortable especially in call centres and where work is private or confidential. Have you worked in a shared space and someone keeps commenting on your screen items over your shoulder? So annoying.
My overall opinion, looks good, costs a lot but needs more thought. Everyone now thinks I am being fussy, but in my experience and with my years of doing this, my review will prove correct. Will they listen – I don’t think so and I will deal with health issues and complaints in the years to come.
I write my report and send it off to the purchasers. I don’t hear anything back and will not know til a few months’ time what the outcome will be. Why don’t they ask occupational health and safety practitioner’s opinion before the fact and not after? That would work better for me and might save everyone a lot of time and effort in the long run.
Have you had problems with fancy chairs and tables at your workplace? Add to the list of what looks good but does you no good. Or tell me about your experience in the comment box below.