06.07.20 Ergonomics,COVID-19,Mental Health,Risk assessments

9 ways to work safely with a laptop

Did you know working with a computer can present risks to your health?  If you use a laptop you should consider that eventual risks such as stress from a badly designed software, inadequate lighting, or poor working postures, can lead or augment potential risks more than a fixed VDU station.  The main reason is to be found on the design, a laptop was not primarily designed for long hours of working; its relatively small screen and a fixed small keyboard do not allow working natural posture, but you can work with your laptop almost everywhere. This adds flexibility to your everyday working life but several places may not conform to recognised standards, e.g. not many hotel bedrooms have height-adjustable chairs. 

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If you follow the simple advice below you can minimise the risks when working with your laptop:

  1. Firstly, duration and type of use are important influences on risk.  Snatching 10-15 minutes on a train is unlikely to present any problems. Problems are more likely to arise however if you sit at your laptop for extensive periods without a break, particularly if you are carrying out more intensive activities like word processing.

  2. It is suggested that you do not work for longer than 30-40 minutes without a break.  Should you experience aches or pains before then however; stop, take a break until the symptoms go away; and shorten your work periods in future. 

  3. Ideally, stand up and move around a little; this promotes ‘active recovery’ in your muscles.  If this is not possible, then systematically relax and tense your muscles; shrug your shoulders; stretch your hands; anything to aid recovery.

  4. If you are using a laptop in your office, a docking station which uses the laptop as the processor via a standard screen, keyboard and mouse should be used.   Alternatively, some form of screen stand can be used with a separate mouse and keyboard, allowing you to use the screen on your laptop at a better height.  If you work at home a lot then you should have a similar arrangement there.  Away from the office and such devices then other simple precautions can still be helpful - some of which may also prove useful in the office.

  5. Try wherever possible to find a table which allows you to use the laptop at about the right height (about elbow height) to avoid extreme shoulder or wrist postures.  In a hotel, putting a pillow on the chair might help. 

  6. Tilting the screen back can help to avoid the tendency to slouch down with hunched shoulders, which places strain on the lower back as well as the neck and shoulders. 

  7. If reflections from lights or windows make this difficult, then move the computer or use blinds rather than slouch.  Poorly adjusted brightness and contrast (as well as dirty screens) can also encourage stooped postures as you peer at the screen.  Experiment with different settings on the laptop. 

  8. Finally, a reminder that you have a legal duty to cooperate with your employer in safeguarding your health and following this advice is part of that duty. 

  9. More importantly, however, you have a duty to yourself.  Muscle injuries can result from many events and can affect the fittest and healthiest amongst us. Keyboard use may provoke symptoms even where the actual problem is nothing to do with your work. Working in awkward postures can aggravate sports or other leisure injuries and, as with many other problems, preventing them is far easier than curing them.