Mobile DSE ergonomics


Friday 15 May 2015


Matthew Birtles


Mobile DSE use, such as tablets, smartphones, and netbooks is increasing at a dramatic pace, and users are exposed to a variety of recognised MSD risks. This webinar discusses some of the research on these common risks, provides suggestions of how they may be managed and provides an update on HSE’s revision of the DSE guidance.


Matthew has been practising ergonomics for 13 years at HSL and has worked in numerous sectors, such as food production, transport, manufacturing, construction, healthcare and office ergonomics. Matthew was on the ART tool development team and has a particular interest involving the prevention of MSD, ergonomics training and the design of fit for purpose solutions.

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Q: Will PDA's be included into the new L26 for the workforce?

Q: Are the DSE regs likely to be revised to encompass the new risks from mobile device use?

Q: Some people argue that the DSE Regs do not currently cover mobile devices...I would say that it does but needs to be more explicit. I see this becoming an issue more and more as employers seem to be at a loss as to what they should do to manage the risks. I see users being given a device with no supporting information at all to reduce risk, let alone peripherals. With the DSE regs now some 23 years old - and 13 years since the last amend - can we expect an update to the regs any time soon?

A: Just for background, the DSE guidance (L26) from HSE is currently being reviewed for re-publication later this year or early next year. There are a number of reviews for MSD guidance published by HSE (e.g. L23 Manual Handling guidance) currently going ahead and these are due for completion later this year. The HSE don't have full control over the date of publication though, so a small delay may occur between their completion and the actual publication. The actual regulations themselves almost certainly won't change, as these are established in the European Directive 90/270/EEC- display screen equipment. However, HSE are considering the guidance on this directive, and how to apply this to mobile DSE device.

The short answer is that we don't yet know exactly what the guidance will cover. The review process began in January this year and takes into consideration input from industry stakeholders as well as technical specialists (like me and my ergonomist colleagues in HSL). As part of this process the HSE musculoskeletal policy team are currently looking at the evidence regarding the use of PDA's (and other mobile device such as smartphones and tablet computers) for work. While evidence shows that these devices are commonly used, there is less evidence about how much of the use is for work (i.e. HSE's remit) or for private home activity and similarly how much exposure to these devices there actually is. If the devices are used 'more or less continuous on most days for continuous or near-continuous spells of an hour or more at a time' then they are likely to be included (working in quotes from L26). The inclusion of the different mobile devices will be based on the degree of this workplace exposure and consideration of the risk factors. Until this guidance is completed, there are numerous practical risk controls that can be put in place, and this is the information I try to get across in the webinar.

Q: Hello! Please can you remind me of the two apps that you referred to on the 'Knowledge' slide?

A: Sure, although these two were just chosen because a) they worked on my tablet, b) they were free and c) a very brief look at the content showed information I was familiar with. I certainly wouldn't (and cannot) endorse either app or comment on their usability. However, these were: EWI Works app and Office Ergonomics E-learning by WMB - both available from the Google Play app store. While I'm not endorsing products, other ergonomists have been busy putting out free guidance which you might find useful. There are some excellent (language free) guidance clips (3 minutes long at most) on the use of mobile DSE device on Youtube, published by Vodafone. Also BT have made their Get Fit For Working guidance on mobile DSE device openly available, which was put together with the support of Margaret Hanson, a highly respected ergonomist here in the UK. And there's an excellent 5 minute video clip on sedentary behaviour (in the office and elsewhere) called 'lets make our day harder' which is excellent. This is by a Canadian Dr. Mike Evans and was passed onto me by one of our occupational physicians.

Q: Does this webinar cover DSE in agile (mobile) environments or just mobile devices?

A: Just mobile devices for now, given the short duration of the webinar. There is good guidance around on agile environments though, we cover this in the DSE training we provide in HSL.

Q: Question for speaker - it is better from a postural point of view to use a separate keyboard if possible?

A: Yes definitely. A separate keyboard (even on a laptop) allows you to position the screen better to allow for a more neutral neck and eye position. Even on mobile devices where people are writing emails or data inputting for approximately half an hour or more, a separate keyboard will be an advantage as the user can elevate the device (so that the top of the device is approximately at eye height) and use it as a screen in a similar way we do with desktop computers. When looking at keyboards, just consider that this will become the primary physical interaction device for the user, so get a good one! 'Good' is subjective though, so if you can, allow the user to trial a few and pick their favourite. This way they are much more inclined to use it.

Q: Are not some of these issues [increased risk of MSD] caused by improper selection of a device, rather than inappropriate use of the device?

A: Yes, it's certainly a part of it. There are endless opportunities to get the provision of mobile devices wrong, and I agree these can start at the purchasing decisions and selection of the device. It's important that even at these levels, the suppliers/decision makers find out what the users actually need (i.e. what they will do with the device, when they will use them, how they will use them, for how long, etc) and base selection on these user centred points. Once these have been established, providers should then think about price, security, their IT network, etc and resolve those issues afterwards. For example, there's no point getting a device with a large capacity battery if the user will only use it for an hour a day. It'll just be unnecessarily heavy and increase holding forces. Even with the best selected device though (and perhaps more so), risks should be considered. Especially for longer term use, and you may find that the best selected devices that actually fit the user's needs the best are used for longest and more frequently.