How To Improve The Ergonomics Of Tablet Use

Do you use a tablet often? They are very popular today and for good reason. Ever since the iPad and other tablets were first introduced, they have become ingrained in our daily lives and many use them as part of daily business activities too. I use a tablet quite often, I have seen colleagues use tablets during meetings, and I am quite certain that many of our readers use tablets quite frequently as well! Why? Well, tablets are very convenient; instead of writing on paper that is always susceptible to getting lost, tablets offer time-saving applications that allow information to be accessed 24/7 and seamlessly merge with the rest of our lives. In light of how convenient and time-saving using a tablet can be, we shouldn’t ignore the ergonomic risks involved with their regular use, especially under non-ideal situations. Note: it is very likely that most tablet use is in non-ideal situations! This post is meant to inform our readers about the ergonomic risks involved with long-term tablet use as well as simple strategies that you can put into place today to improve it! Scroll down to learn more!

The Ergonomics Of Tablet Use

1. More Extreme Postures

If you have ever observed someone using a tablet, typically it is not in what would be considered to be an ergonomically neutral posture. For a posture to be considered to be neutral, it shouldn’t predispose a person to any ergonomic risk whatsoever. The keyword is comfort when talking about an ideal ergonomic set-up. Check out our graphic below for a representation of what would be considered ergonomically neutral; the head is relatively straight forward to view the screen, the shoulders are relaxed, arms are resting comfortably to one’s torso, the person is comfortably sitting with their back on the backrest of their chair, and the keyboard and mouse are in a comfortable position for prolonged typing and mousing.

neutralposturedude

Let’s compare this to a typical tablet setup. Since the keyboard, mouse, and screen share all one device the tablet is ergonomically disadvantaged for long-term use. This is because with a typical tablet, there is just no way to optimize both the hand location and the neck/head position at the same time. If you optimize screen height, the upper extremities will need to reach more and will be exposed to more ergonomic risk to type and mouse. But, if you optimize for typing and mousing, there will be much more ergonomic risk for the neck since the user will need to adopt a more bent neck posture to view the tablet screen – that is likely placed on top of a desk or table. So, what are some of the outcomes of using a typical tablet for prolonged periods of time? Well, if someone is exposed to ergonomically risky postures for a suitable amount of time then an injury or discomfort may develop. How can you tell if you are exposed to ergonomic risk and it is escalating? Take a look at some of the need to know indicators below.

The need-to-know indicators of Ergonomic Risk are:

  1. Redness or swelling on the affected joint
  2. The skin around the area is warm to touch
  3. Reduced range of motion for the affected joint
  4. Fatigue
  5. Pain (soreness, burning, or aching)
  6. Clumsiness
  7. Tender to touch
  8. Tingling, numbness, weakness, change of skin colour

As I mentioned above, the big ergonomic shortcoming with tablets is that keyboard/mouse and the screen are all on the same device. The convenience of this design doesn’t elude me, it’s a major draw that has made them so popular! However, for prolonged use, the postures required to use a typical tablet are even more extreme when compared to using a laptop. And, this means greater ergonomic risk that current research findings support. Tablets require more bent neck postures to view the screen. This fact is in addition to the mechanical demands in the neck can increase 3–5 times during seated tablet computer use versus a seated neutral posture (that we describe above). This is likely to be associated with a much greater load on the neck and poses greater musculoskeletal demands on the body! Tablet use is therefore a greater risk for injury or discomfort for a long-term user.  

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2. Strategies To Improve Posture

The key thing is that the literature clearly shows that tablet use is much riskier than even laptop use. The ergonomic risk for prolonged tablet use likely compounds especially if anyone has pre-existing conditions. It’s difficult to say a specific amount of time that will guarantee discomfort and injury if it is surpassed. The short answer is that there are likely many personal factors at play. Now about those personal factors; people’s tissues have tolerances within which they can work safely until their capacity is overloaded. When tissues surpass their capacity to work safely this puts them at risk of injury development.

Personal attributes that can increase injury susceptibility may include:

  • Age and gender
  • Overall health and fitness
  • Health habits (including smoking, poor eating habits, etc)
  • Work behaviours (such as sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, using poor mousing mechanics, etc)
  • Activities outside the workplace that involve high physical forces, awkward postures, or repetitive actions

Here’s what you can do to limit Ergonomic Risk:

The strategy behind reducing ergonomic risk for tablet use is simply to get things into more neutral or comfortable positions. This is especially true if you will be using a tablet for a long period of time! An ergonomic set-up similar to what would be used with prolonged laptop use would be incredibly useful. What this means is that the tablet should be used with a bluetooth keyboard/mouse and a raised screen (actual tablet) for any sort of prolonged work. This study found that there is a lot less ergonomic risk for the neck for a high propped tablet position, but the position of the hands should not be forgotten either! At a minimum, tablets should at least be placed on a table instead of your lap to minimize awkward ergonomic postures. Additionally, here are some equipment suggestions to get you working more ergonomically:

  • Tablet Keyfolio:
    1. Available for Android, Apple.
    2. Allows for the separation of the keyboard and tablet screen.
      • Improves the position of the tablet screen – angles upwards towards the user for an improved viewing angle (that is considered to be more ergonomic) that also eliminates the need for the user to hold onto the tablet during the user.
      • Improves the position of the hands during typing via the separate keyboard. Will likely improve typing speed for most users.
    3. However, many Keyfolios will still require the user to touch the screen to complete the ‘mousing’ tasks, which will not reduce the ergonomic risk for heavy mousing tasks.

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  • Tablet Stands
    1. Tablet stands angle the tablet screen for improved user viewing – optimal is about 15 or 20 degrees tilted upwards towards the user and often raises the height of the tablet as well. A combination of the two will be the most optimal.
      • Eliminates the need for the user to hold the tablet during use, which is an ergonomic benefit!
    2. No separate typing or mousing surface so that the user still must use the screen for typing and mousing tasks which doesn’t improve the ergonomics of the set-up. However, a separate keyboard and mouse (bluetooth) can be paired to the tablet which will improve its ergonomics substantially.

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Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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