October Newsletter:

Ergonomic Tips for Tablet Users in the Field

This article was featured in our October 2015 email newsletter. Click here to subscribe to receive future newsletters directly to your inbox.

A 2011 press release reported that roughly 17.6 million tablets and iPads have been sold in 2010, and by 2015 sales will likely top greater than 300 million devices. In recent years, many have moved from their comfortable, cushy desks behind desktop computers and laptops to their portable “work from anywhere” tablets and iPads. With lightweight and portable designs, versatile uses in many settings (e.g. field, schools, businesses, etc.), and general ease and speed of start-up, it’s no wonder tablets are so appealing to many professions, including businesspersons, teachers, tradespersons, and inspectors, to name a few. However, we often ignore the notion that the apparent “advantages” may also be disadvantages and actually detrimental in some fashion.

A recent study by Young and colleagues (2012) examined the head and neck postures of various set-ups during tablet use, with variations as to the location (i.e. lap or table) and support (i.e. hand-held or case) of the device. They concluded that placing the device on a table supported by an incline adjustable case is best to limit postural stress and eliminate low gazes. So in instances where such a set-up is feasible, looking to desktop computer and even laptop ergonomic set-ups can provide insight into what may create an appropriate workspace for tablet use. Attachable keyboards have been developed by many electronics companies to go along with incline adjustable cases to make tablets more compatible as a “computer”. Using these accessories might allow for more natural neck, back, and even wrist postures.

What about field workers though, where tablet/iPad keyboard attachments and cases are incompatible on the worksite? For example, what if you are an Electrician wanting to quickly sketch a job schematic? Or a Building Inspector walking through a site, gripping your tablet with one hand and trying to type notes with the other during an inspection? Certain applications and accessories have been created to make field work with tablets more feasible. A frequent, and often daunting task on a tablet is typing, especially when the other hand is occupied with holding the device. Some simple, and often free, dictation (i.e. speech to text) applications exist, allowing for voice commands to be transcribed in print. Or perhaps investing in a stylus pen may be more your speed, allowing you to physically handwrite on the touchscreen, and have your writing transcribed in print. A decent application that allows for both of these options is a “voice to text” application, which can be downloaded from your device’s app store.

Keeping in line with the Building Inspector example, what can be done to address the physical handling/gripping of the device? Tablets/iPads may be lightweight, but with prolonged use, the gripping demands may elicit muscle fatigue. To combat this, one potential solution may be a hand strap; for example, one that is Velcro adjustable and hooks around the edges of the device. The adjustable strap allows you to tighten to your desire, resulting in the device simply resting in the palm of the hand as opposed to continually, and firmly, gripping it.

As the world begins to utilize tablets more and more in the workforce, the need for effective ergonomic solutions will become increasingly vital. Educating yourself on the features of your device as well as understanding the helpful tools and gadgets that have been developed can go a long way towards ensuring safe tablet/iPad use while on the job.

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