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.

What is Mobile Working?

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 the device is used “as it is” on a work surface or on your lap, without the screen being raised to the optimal height, 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.

Therefore individual risk assessments should be conducted, as they are for the office based Display Screen Equipment (DSE) set up, commonly known as a DSE Risk Assessment.

So too for 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 1992/2002 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.

The remote working environment needs the equipment to be practical to set up, in a quick amount of time in order to perform the tasks. Here are solutions to help you get the best from a remote working environment:

Remote / Home Working Desk Set Up – Laptop setup user solutions:

  1. Use a laptop stand or riser or wedge stand (smaller stand), to make the top of the screen approximately 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, avoid glare and use the screen’s auto brightness adjustment. (Product photo from www.online-ergonomics.co.uk)
  2. Use an external input device, i.e. a separate mouse, eases the arm position to be closer and so no reaching forwards.
  3. Use a separate keyboard – e.g. lightweight mini keyboard and use keyboard shortcuts and hot keys, close on the surface is beneficial, so no reaching forwards.
  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 height seat/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, or use whatever you can find.
  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 https://healthywork.org.uk/purchasing-office-chairs-factors-to-consider/ and https://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 the breaks up more over the day if this is feasible.
  7. Carry all of your computer equipment in a lightweight backpack or a wheelie laptop bag (some bags covert from a wheeled bag to a backpack). All of the items detailed above are lightweight (eg wired mouse, lightweight mini keyboard and the laptop riser are plastic/aluminium models) and weigh next to nothing

Remote / Home Working Desk Set Up – Tablet and smart phone users

Tablet and 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. If your arms become fatigued, take additional breaks.
  3. If a task is onerous using a phone/tablet (takes longer in duration) consider other technology options. Maybe do the task on a work surface, or another device, e.g. laptop or with a plugged in full keyboard (use shortcuts) and mouse. Consider a tablet riser with a keyboard or via other method which is easier (eg leave a voicemail instead of typing a long email), voice to text options etc. Consider a Bluetooth pen. (Product photo from www.online-ergonomics.co.uk).
  4. Consider varying the use locations e.g. rest 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. There is also a longer strap model available so the tablet is held with straps over the shoulders so both hands can be free, but the screen is lower. Also, with heavier devices, put the item down frequently. (Product photo from www.misco.co.uk )
  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 the breaks 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.
If more home working is expected of individual employees, the employer must assess whether the home provides a suitable workplace and could set minimum requirements for their work space. A DSE Risk Assessment should be conducted at the home working location too if this is a permanent arrangement, for a few days/hours of the week or more.

Remote workers must ensure they use the equipment correctly and take reasonable care of their own health and safety. They must also be aware of risks their work could pose to other individuals in the vicinity.

If employees are working at another employers premises, as contract staff, the health and safety requirements should be included in the contract, with responsibilities clearly defined, what provision of work space will be available etc, and who will conduct any risk assessments and provide suitable equipment.

IOSH have produced a useful download document entitled Home office, Mobile Office, Managing remote working

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: https://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/ergonomic-assessment/

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

 

Alison Biggs

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