iHurt: Preventing Mobile Device Injuries at Work

Text neck? Blackberry thumb? Smartphone elbow? iHurt? While these conditions may not be widely known by name, many workers already suffer from one or more of them, and they are expected to become increasingly common over the coming years. By 2020, the average employee is expected to access company networks from up to six different devices and most will be mobile devices.

While playing the occasional Scrabble game on a mobile phone in a reclining condition may be fine, lying down on the job is a different story. Indeed, after years of working to introduce healthy ergonomics in the workplace (most notably, after the widespread problems with tendinitis and carpel tunnel that appeared in the 1990s as desktop computer use became widespread), we are now facing a new ergonomic problem and one that may cause even greater health concerns. In short, we are now facing an ergonomic crisis from work-related mobile device use and because so much of this work takes place at home, there’s a risk it will go largely unnoticed—that is, unless we intervene and start training workers to use mobile devices in an ergonomically sound way now. Today’s post examines the dangers of mobile device use and how to promote ergonomically healthy mobile habits.

iHurt: Preventing Mobile Device Injuries at Work

What risks do mobile devices pose on the job and while working remotely?

The list below, while not exhaustive, includes some of the most common health issues related to mobile device use:

Repeated Motion Injuries

Repeated motions injuries or RSIs are caused by repetitive stress from large or small movements on joints, muscles, tendons, and nerves. For example, if you frequently use your thumb to type text messages on a mobile device, you may develop Quervain syndrome (a painful condition that impacts the tendons that move the thumb).

Diseases Caused by Unnatural Postures and Forces

Connected to RSIs are a range of broader disorders that arise when one repeatedly uses their body in an unnatural way that leads to physical stress (e.g., tilting one’s hands too far inward or outward while tapping or putting force on their wrists while typing). Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most well known of these conditions but by no means the only condition for which to watch out.

Eyestrain

Eyestrain is another underestimated and under reported condition that results from using mobile devices. The results can range from mildly inconvenient to incapacitating. Also known as “computer vision syndrome” by some ophthalmologists, the condition includes eye pain, redness, blurred and double vision, and severe headaches.

How to Prevent Mobile Device Injuries on the Job

Fortunately with the proper education and training, most mobile device injuries can be prevented, saving employees from unnecessary pain and saving employers money from loss of work.

Step 1: Invest in the Right Equipment 

As work habits transform, acquire new ergonomic equipment for mobile use. For example, even if employees are using laptops, install fixed monitors to avoid encouraging the “turtle position” associated with laptop use (e.g., hunched back with protruding neck/head).

Step 2: Evaluate Your Workers’ Habits

Take time out to evaluate how, where and when your employees are doing work. Are they doing work primarily on their tablets or phones and not at their desks on fixed computer stations? Are they working on the run from cafes or airport lounges? Are they working from their cars? If so, change your training to reflect the reality of your workplace now.

Step 3: Train

If employees are using mobile devices to carry out all, most or even just some of their work, ensure they know how to use these devices for work in ways that will not cause long-term physical damage. For example, offer training sessions on best communication practices for mobile devices (e.g., this may include helping staff learn how to keep their messages short but still professional in order to reduce keystroke use and/or how to use automated features to further reduce keystroke use and how to hold a mobile device without putting unnecessary strain on one’s hands or wrists).

For more, also see eLeap’s training video: Ergonomics for the Mobile Worker.

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