Keeping today's mobile workforce healthy
Typical examples of mobile working
Smart working - Agile, Remote, Nomadic
Agile working is about the overall approach taken to achieving results.
‘Work is an activity not a place’
Employers use their physical workplace and technology to support people in working how, where and when they work best. Agile work may be in the office, at home, or while travelling. Work may be in teams or solo, online or offline.
Mobile working - the 3 main issues:
- How we physically use mobile devices - our postures, movements, repetition and duration of use,
- Work tasks - including customer characteristics - and work environments; how they affect the way we use our mobile devices.
- Carrying and transporting our mobile devices when we are not using them.
Does this apply to my organisation?
Mobile working in some form or another is now a part of most businesses. In a short space of time our mobile devices have become virtually indispensible. Employers have a legal duty to manage the health risks that come with their use.
Key drivers for increased mobile working
- Connecting colleagues - fast and direct communication at all times.
- Accessibility of cloud-based information (digital workflow) - via cellular networks and WIFI.
- Adaptability - e.g. custom apps developed to streamline work tasks.
- Portability - mobile devices are physically easy to move about with, generally lightweight and relatively robust.
- Flexibility - all the above make mobile devices the natural choice for our increased levels of flexible working.
Health effects of mobile working
Typical musculoskeletal injuries from mobile device use include:
- 'text or tablet neck' - pain in the neck and shoulders from bending the neck to look down at screens
- 'text thumb' – pain in the wrist and base of thumb from repetitive thumb movement during scrolling and typing
- 'tablet arm' – pain in the shoulder and arm from holding a tablet in a static position when reading or inputting, may also affect the neck
- 'smartphone pinky' – pain in the wrist and little finger due to supporting the base of a smartphone with your pinky
Device use is also linked to Digital Eye Strain. Digital Eye Strain is caused by factors such as keeping a short focal length (looking at something close) for long periods and reduced blink rates when we are viewing screens. Digital Eye Strain makes our eyes feel tired, painful and irritated.
Blue light health effects
Research links high levels of blue light from mobile device displays with sleep disruption. The blue light suppresses melatonin production, which is a hormone that helps us sleep. Some research also suggests that blue light from mobile devices may accelerate macular degeneration of the retina, however the link in humans has not been shown clearly yet.
Putting things into perspective
- 94% of UK organisations now offer staff some form of flexible working, in 50% of companies it is now standard practice.
- 83% of people say that mobile devices are a central part of their everyday life.
- In a recent survey 60% of people said they use their smartphones for work, with half of those people stating they use them 'very often'.
- 73% of adults now own a tablet and companies are increasingly looking at the flexibility that tablets can offer in the workplace and for agile work.
- Mobile working raises important work health issues, it is here to stay, and it needs proactive risk management.