So many of us are working “on the go”, with laptops, tablets and smartphones used for work tasks, more now than in the past and fewer of us are sitting on an office chair at a desk using a traditional computer, with a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Mobile working includes working from home, working whilst travelling, such as when travelling by train, hot desking at other office and meeting locations, such as client offices, in hotel rooms and meeting rooms. It can also include working in a wide range of environments such as from a vehicle or other varied locations.

The flexibility is great, but mobile working and mobile equipment use can lead to poor posture, if it is used “as it is” on a surface or on your lap, without the screen being raised to the optimal height, as this can lead to poor neck posture, shoulders rounded forwards, and a bending of the back posture. Repetitive thumb or other finger or wrist use issues due to swiping, tapping the screen and prolonged holding of heavier devices can be additional issues. These types of injuries are known as musculoskeletal issues and can lead to pain and discomfort, may cause prolonged periods of illness and difficulty performing work and home tasks.

So, mobile device users (if on the device for more than 15-30 minutes, regularly) with devices issued for and used as a significant part of an employees work, the HSE Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations apply and employers are required to identify the risks, identify solutions to reduce the risks as low as is reasonably practicable and educate the individual user about correct ergonomics, usage and the risks.

  1. A laptop stand or riser or wedge stand (smaller), to make the top of the screen at the same height as your eye-line is required (different models allow various height ranges). If you are setting up in one fixed location you can trial this by raising the laptop on a pile of books. Keep the screen clean and avoid glare and use the screen’s auto brightness adjustment.
  2. An external input device, i.e. a separate mouse.
  3. A keyboard – e.g. lightweight mini keyboard and use keyboard shortcuts and hot keys.
  4. Raise your sitting height so your elbows are above the desk surface, when your shoulders are relaxed downwards. If you are using a fixed chair, use some cushions under you to raise your sitting height. Ensure your elbow are correctly positioned first, i.e. elbows horizontal to the keyboard, then consider if you need a footrest, if your feet are not fully on the floor. A pile of books or two reams of paper on the floor can work initially.
  5. If you are going to be working for more than 30 minutes, regularly, you should use a suitable chair and other equipment. Ideally the desk surface should be about 72cm high above the floor (this works best with average office chair gas stem height ranges), with good thigh space under the desk, so you can raise your sitting height, so your forearms are at the correct height, above the surface, horizontal from the elbow to the middle row of keys. Thus a thinner edged desk is more suitable than a deeper/thicker edge or a wide frame under the desk, e.g. on some dining tables.
    For longer term use consider an Ergonomic Office Chair, suited to your needs (see http://healthywork.org.uk/purchasing-office-chairs-factors-to-consider/ and http://healthywork.org.uk/sitting-on-an-office-chair-7-top-tips/
    Also choose the correct height footrest, to suit the sitting height to the table initially and then obtain the footrest if required.
  6. Take micro breaks and rest breaks: take 5-10 minutes within the hour, spread out as micro breaks, throughout the hour, by changing your task, stretching, or changing your posture, as required. Stand up to also vary your posture. Look away from the screen regularly, to allow you to blink more frequently and rest your eyes. E.g. 20-20-20: look away every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds at a distance of 20 metres. Also take your rest breaks, and divide up more over the day if this is feasible.

Tablet and smart phone users also need solutions to ease the usage of these new technologies, whether in the office environment of elsewhere.

The prolonged gripping of a device such as a tablet, viewing the screen with the neck flexed (looking downwards) e.g. whilst it is placed on the lap or the excessive thumb or digit use to grip and use a tablet or mobile phone can also cause discomfort and injuries. The following solutions can help:

  1. Hold the phone/tablet higher to your eye at times to ease the neck posture and lower at times, to ease the arm fatigue/use – vary use as comfort allows, but don’t hold it too low and do not use the touch screen with the digits or thumb of the holding hand. Also consider using a stylus. Keep the screen clean and avoid glare and use the screen’s auto brightness adjustment.
  2. Take micro rest breaks frequently, especially if your arms become fatigued, take additional breaks.
  3. If a task is onerous using a phone/tablet (longer in duration) consider other technology options (maybe do the task on a work surface, or another device, e.g. laptop or with full keyboard (use shortcuts) and mouse and tablet riser with a keyboard or via other method which is easier (leave a voicemail instead of typing a long email), voice to text options etc. Consider a Bluetooth pen.
  4. Consider varying use locations e.g. resting the device on an angled raised surface/platform, may ease use. Use a pile of books etc., or consider a phone or tablet stand and riser. Have both hands free to touch the screen can ease typing speed and comfort. Rotating the screen to landscape to increase the size and using zoom can also help.
  5. Use a case with a grip facility, to ensure you don’t drop the device as your arms fatigue, it also allows you to relax your grip and stretch your arm out more easily. Also, with heavier devices, put the item down frequently.
  6. Take micro breaks and rest breaks: take 5-10 minutes within the hour, spread out as micro breaks, throughout the hour, by changing your task, stretching, or changing your posture, as required. Stand up to also vary your posture. Look away from the screen regularly, to allow you to blink more frequently and rest your eyes. E.g. 20-20-20: look away every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds at a distance of 20 metres. Also take your rest breaks, and divide up more over the day if this is feasible.
  7. Consider sitting and standing postures as required – follow the advice for laptops above if you need to set up a working location with desk and chair. You can likely move more frequently with a smaller device, so there is more flexibility in how you work.

In addition to finding solutions as suggested above, employers should consider having a Mobile DSE Policy in their organisation, (in addition to a DSE Policy, which is likely to already be in place).

The regulations below apply to mobile working, even if the working is occasional, e.g. once or twice per week, health issues can still occur if the postures are poor and the durations are longer than brief, therefore the risks need to be correctly managed.

Employers should also refer to the guidance on the HSE Website, mainly:

Here at Healthywork, Alison Biggs, registered Occupational Therapist, offers Occupational Health Assessments, including Ergonomic Assessment, and a Functional Capacity Evaluation in order to assess the employee’s ability to perform their work role, reduce risks by finding solutions, educating individuals in prevention of ill health and suggesting reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 which can help.

Healthywork can assist if an Ergonomic Workstation Assessment is required, along with mobile working solutions to ensure the individual’s seating, posture and task performance is suitable for prevention and for specific health needs. See: http://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/ergonomic-assessment/

Find out more about these and other services on offer at: http://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/

Alison Biggs

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