SPOT on Safety
While the use of cell phones and tablets has proven more efficient and cost effective than the endlessly manual data entry of pipeline tracking, the constant use of small, hand held devices can take its toll on your body. According to Maryann Barry, a professional fitness coach and certified postural alignment specialist, the increasingly common posture of a head-down, shoulder slumped position is causing long term spinal problems and pain for more and more of the population, specifically among younger adults.
In a study conducted by Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, it was found that as the human head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surge. When we hold our head in a healthy, neutral position, the forces to the cervical spine are about 10-12 pounds. But look what happens when we tilt our head forward:
This graph from the study described above shows the effects of the tilt that accompanies cell phone use.
Repetitive increases in stress of this nature may lead to all sorts of neck problems, including early wear and tear, degeneration, and possibly the need for surgery.
In an effort to reduce the strain that cell phone and hand held device use can cause while on the work site, please consider the following ergonomic tips:
Alternate between using your thumbs and other fingers to type. Whenever possible, use your fingers to type instead of your thumbs. This can be achieved by placing your phone down on a hard surface if you’re texting (the surface should be positioned to encourage optimal spinal posture, i.e. a straight back and neck), or holding the phone in one hand (at eye level or slightly below) and texting with the other (as opposed to using one hand only).
If using your thumbs to type, use the pad of your thumb as opposed to the tip of the thumb, as this can create an awkward bent position for your thumb which can lead to potential injury.
Keep your wrists relaxed and as straight as possible. Minimise the strain on your wrists, fingers and thumbs by using a neutral grip when holding your device. A neutral grip is achieved when the wrist is relatively straight (or bent backwards slightly i.e. up to 30 degrees) and not bent in any other direction. If you keep your wrists bent excessively whilst using a mobile device your fingers and/or thumbs have to work a lot harder than with a neutral grip.
Maintain an upright spinal posture when texting (see Posture). Avoid looking down as this bends the neck and tends to round the shoulders. This can ultimately lead to neck, shoulder or upper back pain. Avoid holding the phone in your lap or below chest height. Try to maintain the phone at your chest, chin or eye level to minimize the bend in your neck and to maintain optimal posture. If your phone is below eye level, look down with your eyes rather than your neck.
Avoid using the phone to one side of the body with the neck rotated.
*Ergonomic tips sourced by www.physioadvisor.com.au/health/ergonomics/mobile-phone-ergonomics