Keeping today's mobile workforce healthy

Mobile working simply means work activities done using mobile devices - tablets, phablets, smartphones and laptops (with the exception of using a laptop at your usual desk - if you have one*). It also includes how we transport our mobile devices when we are travelling.

Typical examples of mobile working

  • Sending emails from your laptop on a train
  • Working on your tablet in a cafe
  • Healthcare worker using a tablet to record and track patient information
  • Utility worker using a tablet for recording meter reading
  • How we work today

    Flexible working is on the rise and it is here to stay, made possible with use of mobile devices (smartphones, phablets, tablets and laptops), cloud-based working, and fast cellular networks such as 4G.

    How we work today - Flexible working is on the rise and it is here to stay, made possible with use of mobile devices (smartphones, phablets, tablets and laptops), cloud-based working, and fast cellular networks such as 4G.
    Mobile technology

    Mobile devices offer great benefits to business. They let us work flexibly and enable seamless workflows. However, overuse and non-ergonomic working arrangements with mobile devices can also lead to health effects such as musculoskeletal strain injury. These risks need to be properly managed.

    Mobile technology - Mobile devices offer great benefits to business. They let us work flexibly and enable seamless workflows. However, overuse and non-ergonomic working arrangements with mobile devices can also lead to health effects such as musculoskeletal strain injury. These risks need to be properly managed.

    Smart working - Agile, Remote, Nomadic

    All these terms are used to describe flexible work practices. Mobile working is an essential part of all of these work styles.

    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?

    Even if your organisation doesn't have formal flexible working arrangements, if your employees work while 'on-the-go' - for example on trains, in hotels and cafes, mobile working could still be a key part of your business.

    Our Mobile Working Risk Management System applies just as much to this kind of of 'ad-hoc' work arrangement.

    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

    Musculoskeletal health effects
    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
    Eye-related health effects
    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

    We use our mobile devices a lot, and we increasingly use them for work activities. Here are some recent eye-opening statistics about flexible working and mobile device use.

    • 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.
    The adverse health effects of using mobile devices are likely to become more evident and easier to see, as employees are exposed to risks over an increasing period of time. These issues are still very new; iPad was only launched in 2010, with Android tablets launching shortly after, and the first generation of users who have grown up with these devices, are yet to enter employment.
    *Note – Our Mobile Working Risk Management System should not be applied if you are only using your laptop at your normal desk (if you have a normal desk – i.e. at your office or home). In that specific situation although our guidance would be useful you should apply to the principles and expectations for Display Screen Equipment (DSE) use as set out in the HSE Guidance on Display Screen Equipment (L26). In coworking spaces our risk management package would still apply, even if you habitually use a laptop at a particular desk or table, although you may still also need to apply L26. Back to top