After 25 years in this job, I thought I had a good understanding of the key risks that are faced by lone workers. Violence, aggression, medical emergencies, harassment, falls, stress, isolation…
Then I was introduced to Ed Milnes and in a quick five-minute conversation he gave me something else to think about – a risk that I was subjected to on a daily basis and yet I had never given it a thought!
The introduction of mobile devices to the workplace has played a part in increasing the amount of remote working we can do. And mobile working has brought great advantages to both employers and employees. However, there may be some risks attached to the use of mobile devices that will pass us by until we get that ‘crick in the neck’, that ‘pain in the wrist’ or that ‘smartphone pinky’!
Ed is a Chartered Ergonomics and Human Factors (EHF) consultant. He worked for the Health and Safety Executive for over 15 years as an Ergonomics and Human Factors Specialist Inspector. Recently he has published a really useful guide to managing the musculoskeletal risks from mobile working.
We asked Ed to share some of his views on how
using mobile devices can impact on lone workers and their employers.
Lone workers and mobile Display Screen Equipment
Mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, are joining laptops as widespread primary pieces of work equipment. Lone workers as a group include a relatively high proportion who use these devices a substantial amount on a daily basis. It is in the nature of their work – being out and about visiting clients etc. Often they are used in less than ideal working conditions e.g. in transit, client sites etc. which can add to the potential strain from the devices’ inherently poor ergonomics.
Mobile devices in their ‘raw form’ almost inevitably lead to poor neck posture, and prolonged repeated strain in the hands and wrists. Over a long period of time this can cause musculoskeletal injury and ultimately lost work days, and even a higher rate of employee turnover – if people no longer feel able to continue working. Thankfully it is fairly uncommon for things to reach that stage, but it is essential for employees to be proactive in preventing development of these kinds of issues.
Although there is sometimes debate about the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992 and whether they apply to mobile devices, if the devices are an essential piece of work equipment, that employees are expected and anticipated to use as a significant part of their daily work, which also involves rapid transfer of information to and from them, then the DSE Regulations do apply. Even if a view was taken that the DSE Regulations don’t really apply, then employers still have a duty of care to ensure the risks from work equipment and work practices are properly managed, and the model for doing this would come from the DSE Regulations (so we end up going full circle!).
Many employers have risk management models for standard office DSE, but for mobile DSE the issues are seen as more challenging, and tend to be less effectively managed. This is an important aspect of many Lone Worker’s day-to-day lives, and one that is still in the early stages in terms of employer awareness. Personal safety issues are a vital area to manage, but health aspects of lone working should also be carefully considered.
There are a range of measures that employees can take, from user training and awareness, to provision of ancillary aids to allow devices to be used in more neutral postures. The culture of organisations is also important in encouraging employees to make use of training and anciliary aids. Simply providing the equipment is not enough.
This is a long-term challenge but we see it as an important one. Good ergonomic practice at work, should lead to good practice at home, which we hope will also encourage younger generations to use devices in less physically stressful ways. Mobile devices are here to stay so we need to make sure that their benefits in terms of connectivity, work flexibility etc. are not overshadowed by musculoskeletal risks.
So, the next time, you find yourself working on a train (sitting or even standing), answering an email whilst walking down the street or balancing your laptop on your steering wheel, think about the potential risks to your health. Or maybe before you do any of this, take a look at the Ed’s guidance which is available as a free download via www.mobileoffice.guru