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One in five adults will own or plan to buy a tablet by 2014, according toUSresearch.Andmore than a third of respondents in the survey expect to use the device for such business pur- poses as correspondence, online meetings, web conferences, marketing and training. However, an ergonomist warns there could be an impact on

worker health through the frequent use of tablet devices. Users wouldprobablybelookingatwhat thedevicecandofor themrather than considering ergonomic issues, says Forme Ergonomics & Workplace Health owner Carmel Murphy, based in Vancouver. Bad posture, strained necks and fatigued muscles are just

a fewergonomic issues linked to tablet use, she claims. In fact, these symptoms are becoming so common they are being referred to as “iPad neck”. “I think you are going to seesome new areas of the body that

might be more at risk because of that constant and static pos- ture that people adopt when using tablets,” says Murphy. Maintainingastatic posture cancontribute tomus-

cle strain “because you’re not really gettingthe blood into themuscles,you’regettingabuild-up,astatichead clusteringthat could lead to discomfort beyondthat”. Another ergonomist agrees that people commonly

overlook ergonomics when using lightweight and portable devices. Although there is an awareness of the need to

in the holding hand can contribute to muscle fatigue, and people need to make a conscious effort to balance the stress by alternating hands. People typing on keyboards without tactile feedback have

a tendency to use greater force, again contributing to strain, according to Canadian associate professor of industrial engi- neering Nancy Black. And further strain results when users adjust their posture to better see the tablet screen. Astudy on the ergonomic impact of tablet use, carried out

by researchers at theHarvard School of PublicHealth in Boston have studied the ergonomic impact of tablet use, exploring how user configurations and tilt produced by tablet cases affect the head and neck. Based on observations of 15 experienced media tablet

adopt proper postureswhen using desktop comput- ers,DanRobinson ofRobinson Ergonomics in British Columbia says that the line of sight and hand position for data input on tablets — either on the touchscreen or its virtual key- board—are very close together. “That typically means we take care of puttingthe device into a position that is easy to reachbut may require awkward neck positions to look at the screen.” Although he has yet to see specific research linking tablet

use and circulatory problems, any posture involving contact pressure on parts of the body or sustained joint angles that gene- rate muscle fatigue are likely to restrict blood flow. While typing on a desktop computer involves using most,

if not all, fingers, a tablet touchscreen lacks tactile feedback. Because of this, users often end up using either a one- or two- finger typing method that requires watching the keys. Mean- while, the fingers not being used are folded into the palmin a flexed position or held out of the way in an extended pose — neither of which is ideal. It is also common for tablet users to hold the device in one hand and navigate with the other. Robinson says the static grip

You are going to see some new areas of the body that might be more at risk.

users, the findings show that head and neck posture could be improved by placing the devices higher to avoid low gaze angles. Tablet cases and stands can help provide optimal and neutral viewing angles, the study says. However, Robinson says he believes that optimal

positioning depends largely on the task. Supporting the tablet in an elevated position can help improve neck posture while reading, but “this is less likely to be of benefit if there is lots of hand interaction with the tablet,” he says. In that case, a separate keyboard might be the best option. As a rule, users should target a neutral posture, vary postures, take breaks and be alert for physical

red flags like fatigue or discomfort. “Don’t get rid of your desk- top if your job involves document production or long emails,” Robinson advises. “Use the tablet as a tool where appropriate, and recognise when there may be more appropriate tools.” He saysemployers should consider howstaffmembers will

use the devices. If the work task is data-input intensive, key- boards or voice inputwould prove better andmore effective than touchscreens, he says. Black advises that changing position is crucial as there is

no ideal posture to cover off allhuman elements, including eyes, neck, shoulders and wrists. “When raising the tablet, shoulder strain is likely;when lowering it, neck and low-back strainwould be more problematic.” However,most people do not seem to use tablets as a primary

computing device, but rather use theminmeetings to take notes or to check email when away from the office. Murphy says a key factor to avoiding ergonomic pitfalls is

staff education. E

a tablet... JUNE/JULY 2012 | WWW.EXECUTIVEPA.COM.AU 27

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