ERGONOMICS – what does that really mean?

The word ergonomic put simply means the study of how things interact with the human body. Ergonomic advisers work to make products more comfortable for human use. The word ergonomics is banded about and if you don’t work in an office at a desk you probably think it is of no use or interest to you. But in today’s world of smart phones, tablets, laptops, working from home/abroad there are very few of us who can afford to ignore the basics of sound ergonomic advice.
Laptops The first laptop was invented in 1976. It weighed 48 1/2 lbs. Luckily lap tops have got lighter and today you can purchase a laptop that weighs as little as 3lbs. With the reduction of weight however many laptops/notebooks have got smaller, with smaller screens and keyboards. Smaller keyboards can lead to sore fingers. Screens that don’t move independently from the keyboards means the user can over stress neck muscles from having to constantly look down. Eyes can get strained as the font size on small screens can be harder to see.
Mobile Phones The first truly mobile phone was invented in 1973. I can remember the first mobile phones. They were heavy and cumbersome so we have moved on since then. We now have “smart” phones that are small enough to fit in a back pocket and run our lives. I have to confess that I feel a little lost without mine. Gone are the days when their only function was to make a phone call.
Not only do we dial numbers but many of us use our phones to send emails by typing on such small screens. The constant and repetitive use of phones can lead to pain in fingers, thumbs and wrists. Neck and back pain can also occur if screens are looked down at constantly for example when playing games.
Tablets Over the last 5 years tablets have become common place for most of us. Touch screen gadgets that allow us to download apps, surf the net and communicate via email and facetime. They are easy to carry about and fast to access the internet. I love mine.
A recent study, however, from Harvard and Microsoft has warned that using a tablet can increase the likelihood of ergonomic problems depending on how you use it. In the study people were asked to use their tablet in four different positions:-
1) held in their lap 2) placed on a table in the lowest viewing angle 3) placed on a table in a case at the steepest angle.
All users were then asked to use their tablets to browse, email, play games and watch movies.
It was noted that most positions produced flexed neck positions, causing strain. They suggest that the best position was 3) with the tablet on a table set up in a vertical position.
What can you do to reduce the risk when working with modern technology? None of us want to stop using our laptops, tablets or smart phones. The danger is when they are overused putting strain on the neck, back and predisposing arm, wrist and finger
First you need to work out how long you use a laptop/tablet or phone? Laptops were invented for short term use primarily. A transportable computer that could be used when away from the desktop. Tablets and phones are also designed for ease of transportation rather than hours of use.
These days however most of us use our laptops/tablets and phones regularly and for many hours. How many of you can confess to sitting on the sofa with your laptop on your lap for more than an hour? If the answer is yes you are exposing yourself to potential anatomical stress and strain. There are, however, some easy steps to reduce your risk of ergonomic injury:-
  • Laptops · Try to use your laptop at a desk
  • Make sure you sit back into your chair to support your back
  • Ensure the chair is close to the desk and the keyboard
  • Ideally your laptop screen should be at eye level. If you are using your laptop for more than 1 hour on a regular basis you need to consider using devices to make your laptop more ergonomically friendly. These could include a laptop stand, separate keyboard and mouse.
  • Mobile Phones · Try not to use your phone whilst looking down, especially if you are using your phone for a long period e.g. playing a game. Try to look straight ahead whilst using your phone. This will mean lifting the phone upwards which in itself may cause shoulder ache.
  • Ideally try not to use your phone for prolonged period.
  • Be careful of constant texting, emailing on your phone. Using the small keyboards could cause strain to finger joints and cause pain if overused.
  • Increase the font size or wear your reading glasses if you are straining to read your phone. Straining can be bad for your eyes and for your neck.
  • Tablets · Try to use your tablet with a tablet case. Many tablet cases have a support that allows the user to change the angle of the screen.
  • Tablet cases with keyboards are useful if you are doing a lot of typing on your tablet. This should prevent strain of your hands and wrists.
  • Avoid sitting on the sofa and looking down at the tablet screen. Try to raise the level of the tablet and use a case so that you can set the screen vertically.
For all devices it is advisable to change positions regularly. If you are spending a long time on a computer make sure you move every 20-30 minutes. This may mean you just stand up and walk around your chair before continuing working or it may mean you leave your desk for a few minutes.
Overall if you start to get aches and pains during or after using your device you must rethink your posture. If you are unsure about your posture get someone to take a photo of you whilst you are busy. You will be surprised how this may highlight a postural issue you were unaware of.
For further help with ergonomics either general advice or help to set up your work station. Then please contact Helen Bullen info@finefettle.org