Richard Griffiths - Lecture Notes

UK Usability Law 


There are a number of ways that the law impacts on the usability of software and its evaluation.  This will be examined under the headings;

Usability Specific Legislation Go to top of page

The well-being of workers and their health and safety at work is increasingly coming under the regulation of the law.  In the UK, the major legislation that is applicable to computer use is the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.

Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations lay six main requirements on employers:
  1. must assess the risks arising from the use of display screen workstations and take steps to reduce any risks identified
  2. inform users about the results of the assessments, the actions the employer is taking and the users' entitlements under the Regulations
  3. ensure that new workstations meet minimum ergonomics standards set out in a schedule to the Regulations
  4. plan display screen work to provide regular breaks or changes of activity
  5. offer eye tests before display screen use, at regular intervals and if necessary provide special glasses
  6. provide health and safety training for users before use or whenever the workstation is 'substantially modified'
For a through review of the issues for employers see the Web site written by Stewart.Link down within page

These regulations are a casting into British law of the European Council Directive 90/270/EEC.

Council Directive 90/270/EEC

Council Directive 90/270/EEC Link within page of 29 May 1900 on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment, deals largely with the physical aspects of workstation design (and this is the main part that made it into British legislation).  However, it also lays down requirements specifically for the design of the operator/computer interface.  These are give in the extract following:
In designing, selecting, commissioning and modifying software, and in designing tasks using display screen equipment, the employer shall take into account the following principles:
(a) software must be suitable for the task;
(b) software must be easy to use and, where appropriate, adaptable to the operator's level of knowledge or experience; no quantitative or qualitative checking facility may be used without the knowledge of the workers;
(c) systems must provide feedback to workers on their performance;
(d) systems must display information in a format and at a pace which are adapted to operators;
(e) the principles of software ergonomics must be applied, in particular to human data processing.

Other Relevant Legislation Go to top of page

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

The Disability Discrimination Act Link down within page is described as:
"An Act to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises; to make provision about the employment of disabled persons; and to establish a National Disability Council."
This act has considerable implications for the usability of software and software enabled devices in both work and private life.  In the extracts from the act below, points that are particularly relevant to usability are highlighted in red.

(3) The following are examples of steps which an employer may have to take in relation to a disabled person in order to comply with subsection (1)-

(a) making adjustments to premises;
(b) allocating some of the disabled person's duties to another person;
(c) transferring him to fill an existing vacancy;
(d) altering his working hours;
(e) assigning him to a different place of work;
(f) allowing him to be absent during working hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment;
(g) giving him, or arranging for him to be given, training;
(h) acquiring or modifying equipment;
(I) modifying instructions or reference manuals;
(j) modifying procedures for testing or assessment;
(k) providing a reader or interpreter;
(l) providing supervision.
(4) In determining whether it is reasonable for an employer to have to take a particular step in order to comply with subsection (1), regard shall be had, in particular, to-
(a) the extent to which taking the step would prevent the effect in question;
(b) the extent to which it is practicable for the employer to take the step;
(c) the financial and other costs which would be incurred by the employer in taking the step and the extent to which taking it would disrupt any of his activities;
(d) the extent of the employer's financial and other resources;
(e) the availability to the employer of financial or other assistance with respect to taking the step.

Goods, facilities and services

19. - (1) It is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person-

(a) in refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public;

(b) in failing to comply with any duty imposed on him by section 21 in circumstances in which the effect of that failure is to make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for the disabled person to make use of any such service;
(c) in the standard of service which he provides to the disabled person or the manner in which he provides it to him; or
(d) in the terms on which he provides a service to the disabled person.

(2) For the purposes of this section and sections 20 and 21-
(a) the provision of services includes the provision of any goods or facilities;
(b) a person is "a provider of services" if he is concerned with the provision, in the United Kingdom, of services to the public or to a section of the public; and
(c) it is irrelevant whether a service is provided on payment or without payment.
(3) The following are examples of services to which this section and sections 20 and 21 apply-
(a) access to and use of any place which members of the public are permitted to enter;
(b) access to and use of means of communication;
(c) access to and use of information services;
(d) accommodation in a hotel, boarding house or other similar establishment;
(e) facilities by way of banking or insurance or for grants, loans, credit or finance;
(f) facilities for entertainment, recreation or refreshment;
(g) facilities provided by employment agencies or under section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973;
(h) the services of any profession or trade, or any local or other public authority.

These notes relate specifically to the UK situation.  For a brief discussion of developments in US disability legislation see Hudson Link down within page

Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29)

The Data Protection Act 1998 Link down within page governs the holding of information on individuals.  It is an issue for evaluators when automated logs of user interactions with a system may be recorded.  In the extract from the act below, sections that raise issues are highlighted in red.


1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless-
(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and
(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.
2. Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.
3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.
4. Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
5. Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.
6. Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects under this Act.
7. Appropriate technical and organizational measures shall be taken against unauthorized or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.
8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.
Information on the operation of the legislation can be found at the Data Protection Registrar's Link down within page web site.

Employment Legislation

Consumer Protection

Software and software enabled artefacts are commercial products like any other, and are therefore subject to the same legislation that covers the sale of any other goods.  If a particular feature of a product is its claimed usability, then the supplier had better be prepared to back this claim up.  Particular legislation governing this is the Consumer Protection Act 1987 Link down within page
"An Act to make provision with respect to the liability of persons for damage caused by defective products; ..."
and the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 Link down within page
"An Act to amend the law relating to the sale of goods; to make provision as to the terms to be implied in certain agreements for the transfer of property in or the hire of goods, in hire-purchase agreements and on the exchange of goods for trading stamps and as to the remedies for breach of the terms of such agreements; and for connected purposes."

Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act Link down within page sets a general tenor for the interpretation of other legislation, in particular (from our perspective) preventing discrimination, and privacy.  Exactly how the rights granted in this legislation will be interpreted by the courts is yet to be seen.  I am not suggesting that in carrying out usability design or evaluation we will often be in danger of flagrantly abusing obvious human rights.  However, as software embeds its self into more and more of the artefacts and systems that support civil life, the possibility of infringing human rights should be born in mind.  If you were designing software to support the penal system (e.g., to monitor tagged criminals) the issues may be obvious.  However, designing a system, or evaluating a system in such a way that it discriminates unreasonably amongst potential users (e.g., that required blind people to receive personal information by voice output in a public place where it could be overheard, and which could be considered degrading) may not be initially be so obvious.

The specific rights that it gives are listed below.  Details of articles that may have particular significance for usability design are in red and larger font.

Article 2:    Right to Life

Article 3:    Prohibition of Torture

No one shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 4:    Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour
2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Article 5:    Right to Liberty and Security
Article 6:    Right to a Fair Trial
Article 7:    No Punishment Without Law

Article 8:    Right to Respect for Private and Family Life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
Article 9:     Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
Article 10:    Freedom of Expression
Article 11:    Freedom of Assembly and Association
Article 12:    Right to Marry

Article 14: Prohibition of Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
Article 16: Restrictions on Political Activity of Aliens
Article 17: Prohibition of Abuse Rights
Article 18: Limitations on Use of Restrictions on Rights

Contractual Obligation Go to top of page

Industry Custom and Practice

It is a professional obligation on the evaluator to use industry custom and practice in selecting the techniques and methods used for a particular evaluation.

Conformance to Standards

There are a number of standards on usability in existence, both process and product oriented.  Conforming to these standards may be both an explicit or an implied contractual obligation in the usability design of software.  Guidance on usability standards is provided by HUSATLink down within page   Also, Stuart Link down within page has provided an FAQ on standards and the organizations that produce them.

References Go to top of page

Consumer Protection Act 1987 (c. 43)

Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1900 on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment

Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29)

Data Protection Registrar

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50)

Hudson, William    'Public Accomodation': The US Web Accessibility Jigsaw

Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42)

HUSAT    Guidance on Usability Standards

Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 (c. 35)

Stewart, Tom    An Employer's Guide to the Display Screen Regulations    System Concepts Ltd

Stewart, Tom    Standards FAQ

Extracts from British Legislation are Copyright HM Stationary Office.


This page is maintained by Richard Griffiths and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the University of Brighton. 

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