Agilea Blog (EN)

DSE Assessment – The legal Story

Historical Background

During what was described as the “glorious Thirties” (1945-1975), a period following the WW2, which saw a major increase of the living standards, it became important for the countries regulators to improve the work conditions, including the safety at work.

Each European country had its own approach, and a raft of text where published locally before the European commission decided to come up with a global approach.

In the U.K, the milestone text was published at the beginning of the seventies , overlooking the whole safety at work, while the more specified text for working safely with computers was brought up in the early nineties, in line with the development of computer use in the workplace

Legal Text

DSE assessment regulation is a result of several legal texts which are regulating Health at Work, either British or European
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (also referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA)
  • Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Directive 90/270/EEC
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (amended in 2002)
  • Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDT’s) ISO 9241-5:1999

The "Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974" (also referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA)

It is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain and took place after a rise in the number of deaths at work during the sixties .

As a result, The Robens Committee was appointed in 1970 to investigate the system and propose changes. Its radical 1972 report formed the basis of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act.

Subsequently, the Health and Safety Executive was established to inspect workplaces, enforce the law, provide advice and conduct research to improve safety and health. It is interesting to note that while being a state regulatory body, the HSE does not come under the purview of a particular government department.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Directive 90/270/EEC

Over the last century, the development of the European Union (EU) has produced a large body of community legislation. Those regulation have been developed with a view of balancing the costs and benefits, so they can be effective without constraining economic development.

During the eighties, a working group of countries led by Germany was set-up in order to facilitate the ongoing process of evaluating the DSE Directive and to use this as an example that a cross- country evaluation is possible and provides a useful feedback mechanism for policy making.

The result of this working group was produced through the publication of the Directive 90/270/EEC, which lay down the minimal safety and health requirements for anyone who works with a display screen equipment.

Based on a set of common terms of reference drawn up in order to ensure consistency, it was agreed that a pilot evaluation of the DSE Directive 90/270/EEC in each participating member state should be undertaken, both to test the methodology and to answer questions about the success of the Directive.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) was asked by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to conduct the evaluation of the DSE Directive in Great Britain.

Further to the evaluation of the directive 90/270/EEC and it promulgation, the directive was implemented in the UK law through the display screen equipment regulation 1992.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (amended in 2002)

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) regulations 1992 is the result of the implementation in UK law of the Directive 90/270/EEC, whose main goal is to reduced the main health risks associated with DSE use, such as musculoskeletal disorders, stress and visual fatigue.

While the risks to individual users are often low, they can still be significant if good practice is not followed. DSE workers are also so numerous that the amount of ill-health associated with such work is significant, and tackling it is important. HSC/E recognises that securing compliance with these Regulations has potential to make a significant contribution towards hitting the targets for ill health reduction in the Priority Programme on Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD).
It was amended in 2002 in order to widen the workstation definition scope.

The scope sets out minimum requirements for the following areas, display screen, keyboard, desk, chair, work environment (including working space, lighting, reflection and glare, noise, heat and humidity), task requirements and software

Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDT’s) ISO 9241

While not being a text promoted by the regulators ( Governement, E.U comission…), the "ISO 9241" is a multi-part standard from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) covering ergonomics of human-computer interaction.

While originally titled Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs) when it was firstly published in 1992, it was renamed Ergonomics of Human System Interaction in 2006 and updated to cover more topics such as tactile and haptic interaction

The current text is divided in the following categories :
  • 100 series : Software ergonomics
  • 200 series : Human system interaction processes
  • 300 series : Displays and display related hardware
  • 400 series : Physical input devices – ergonomics principles
  • 500 series : Workplace ergonomics
  • 600 series : Environnment ergonomics
  • 700 series : Application domains – control rooms
  • 800 series : Tactile and Haptic interactions


To date, and despite the exponential use of screens in the workplace, with various form of screens (computer, tablet, smartphones…), the regulator has not produced any further legal text covering the safety at work while using Display Screen equipment .

As seen above, there are quite few legal texts or standards which covers the human interaction with Display Screen Equipment (DSE, VDT…) .

However, it is also interesting to note that the regulator tends to only update its work a posteriori.