Laptops create need for a new support network

THE increase in use of laptop computers may have lifted productivity in many workplaces, but their versatility is having an unexpected cost.

Incorrect posture associated with the use of laptops is costing employers money due to absenteeism and compensation claims.

Occupational health and safety experts believe that, while there is plenty of information available about the correct way to set up a work station, employers and employees are failing to implement simple techniques.

Recent ABS statistics show that, while 127,400 people did not apply for workers’ compensation because they felt their injury too minor, according to health professionals, the minor injuries brought about by bad posture are costing employers in productivity time.

WorkSafe senior ergonomist Rod Powell said while there was a greater awareness of the importance of posture, work-place injuries involving the neck, spine and wrists were increasing due to the incorporation of the laptop computer to the working environment.

“The computer screen needs to be at eye level and the key-board needs to be on the desk. You can’t have both of those things with a laptop. We wouldn’t recommend it for long-term use,” he said.

“A simple solution is to plug a separate keyboard in to the laptop and raise the machine.”

Mr Powell said it was beyond doubt that office-related neck and back injuries were a major problem for employee productivity.

“If there is a discomfort with a person then productivity decreases,” he said.

According to Applied Safety and Risk Management principal consultant Guy Ripely, most people do not know the correct way to set up their work station and, as a consequence, develop neck, back and wrist injuries.

“The screen should be below or at normal eye level; you shouldn’t be pulling your neck muscles back or forward. Most people have the computer screen too high,” Mr Ripely said.

“The angle between the upper arm and forearm should be 90 degrees or greater.

“If you have your hands higher than your elbow the flow of synovial fluid, the fluid that liquefies the tendons, drains downhill and the tendons operate without lubricant.

“Your thighs should be lower than your knees; if they are not, the edge of the seat cuts into the back of your thighs and restricts blood flow.

“Some people say their thighs are level but they are too low in their seat.

“In that case they need a footstool.”

Mr Powell said employers should ensure employee work-stations are set up correctly to avoid possible compensation claims.

“You need a computer screen that is 90 centimetres away from you for comfortable viewing; that means you need the correct desk,” he said.

“If someone is sitting too close to the screen they may move back away from it to avoid eye pain, but then they lean forward and ruin their posture.

“People are developing what is called ‘mouse arm syndrome’ because they are slouching to reach the mouse.

“As far as furniture requirements are concerned, recommendations concerning desks and chairs have been around for over 10 years. A useful, and free, source of information can be found on the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s website: www.”

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