Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors launches Mobile Working Guidance
Musculoskeletal risks associated with mobile devices. As much as it seems like a hot topic when it’s brought up, interesting views or research pop up, statistics are flagged up, but we – as a discipline or collective of professionals – seem to move on again and refocus on other areas. Maybe hoping that it will go away or perhaps convincing ourselves that because we aren’t having problems ourselves, it’s not really a big issue. It is an issue that is here to stay though, and it is growing and permeating across all generations which makes it unprecedented.
Anecdotal evidence and research is clear, that mobile device use can cause musculoskeletal problems – the guidance sets out a number of studies that support this. Not to mention visual, psychological and even cardiovascular issues when used to excess.
General public awareness of the issue is growing
Under pressure from the public perception and their own investors, Apple have recently said they will work towards providing robust tools to enable restriction of childrens’ time on mobile devices. But this is just one part of the picture.
To quote Tim Cook – “I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices”. Tim Cook went on to say that the idea is to empower people through their devices, not to maximise the time they spend using them. It has become a case of ‘just because we can do x y and z on our phones / tablets, it doesn’t mean we should’ (at least not routinely!).
Duration of use – just one of the key issues
Time-on-screen is just one of a number of themes in the guidance CIEHF is launching. The idea that we should be doing more and more work on mobile devices, and as a result spending more and more time on them, is something we should be cautious of. In the case of mobile devices convenience does not equal good ergonomics – it comes with a significant trade-off.
Holding static poor postures for extended periods, and / or many times throughout the day is another key factor, as is repetitive use of small movements to interact with screens.
Introducing the Mobile Working Guidance
The newly launched Mobile Working guidance provides employers with the information and tools to start taking steps to manage the musculoskeletal risks, in the same way that office ergonomics or DSE issues have been managed now for a number of years. The guidance will also be useful for anyone who is interested in learning more about the issue.
Click here to download the guidance document (pdf).
The document contains 3 main sections:
Section 1: Introduction to the issues – the basis for action
Why musculoskeletal issues linked with mobile devices is an important and growing concern for employers.
How Health and Safety law applies to mobile device use for work.
Section 2: Risk assessment checklist
Split into sections covering all aspects of mobile device use – from transporting equipment to user techniques.
Specifically addressed the three main devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Section 3: Guidance on how to manage and reduce the risks
Practical tips and guidance on controlling and reducing the risks – focusing on a range of typical areas such as during transit (trains, flying).
A unique set of challenges and opportunities
Mobile device use and associated musculoskeletal issues is a complex area, not just because of the wide range of different activities and roles that device use occurs in, but also because exposure is often as high if not higher at home / outside work. One of the intentions with this guidance and promoting responsible management of the issues by employers, is that the important messages will filter through to use outside of work environments, and get passed on to the future generations of workers. Good practice in using devices at home can become second-nature if we start early enough. We also need to build an understanding that buying or taking on the use of a device is just the first stage – there is a world of peripheral equipment designed to take strain off when using devices.
Being able to move about and take your work with you provides us with a healthy opportunity – it empowers us to change the way we work to counteract the sedentary work that many people are used to. But doing this without introducing new risks requires planning and management.
Looking after future generations of workers
Rolling out information and training on these issues is an opportunity for employers to demonstrate corporate social responsibility – by making sure that messages can be spread out beyond the work environment – and a commitment to overall wellbeing of staff.
As joint authors of the guidance Sarah Tapley and I hope you find it useful and engaging. For ergonomics to continue flourishing, information sharing like this is vital – it helps us achieve consistency and reliability in how we approach developing issues.
Thank you to Jim Taylour at Orangebox whose Mobile Generations work prompted us to put the guidance together. Thank you also to the CIEHF for recognising and supporting this work and giving it a platform.
Ed Milnes is a Chartered Ergonomics and Human Factors Consultant based in the South-East UK.
Gold, J. E., J. B. Driban, N. Thomas, T. Chakravarty, V. Channell, and E. Komaroff. 2012. “Postures, Typing Strategies, and Gender Differences in Mobile Device Usage: An Observational Study.” Applied Ergonomics 43: 408–412.
Korpinen, L., R. Pääkkönen, and F. Gobba. 2013. “Self-reported Neck Symptoms and Use of Personal Computers, Laptops and Cell Phones among Finns Aged 18–65.” Ergonomics, 56 (7): 1134–1146.
Leon Straker, Courtenay Harris, John Joosten & Erin K. Howie (2018) Mobile technology dominates school children’s IT use in an advantaged school community and is associated with musculoskeletal and visual symptoms, Ergonomics, 61:5, 658-669, Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2017.1401671
Sophia Berolo, Richard P. Wells, Benjamin C. Amick, (2011) Musculoskeletal symptoms among mobile hand-held device users and their relationship to device use: A preliminary study in a Canadian university population. Applied Ergonomics, Volume 42, Issue 2, Pages 371-378, Taylor & Francis. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003687010001249