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Working with touchscreens: Pre-programmed tennis elbow?

Magazine Contact #18

Classic computer monitor work has meanwhile been extensively described and the ergonomic requirements have long been forged into employment law regulations. At the centre is the health-friendly office workplace with its key components of swivel chair, desk, desktop PC or Notebook, monitor and mouse. A new generation of input devices has now been added to this: Touchscreens! What does that mean for workplace ergonomics?

We have already gotten accustomed to the new touch input form with Smartphones and tablets – what’s more, we have even grown fond of them. It is particularly the intuitive input methods and playful handling that make these devices so attractive. It’s hence no wonder touchscreens have now also found their way onto the office desk. The inventive creativity of PC manufacturers is quite diverse here: From the swivelling, all-in-one PC (that replaces the classic desktop PC) to touchscreen Notebooks on up to various hybrid devices. And Microsoft, ever the absolute market leader in PC operating systems, has pushed touch input quite intensively since the launch of Windows 8.

 

But can we work productively with the new touch devices in the long term and above all: Are they really conducive to healthy working? In general little empirical knowledge can be found about touchscreens in the working world. One thing seems clear, however, anyone positioning their monitor “ideally” according to generally valid ergonomics guidelines – thus vertically with 50–70 cm distance to the user and the monitor’s uppermost information bar at eye level at the most - will have a problem, as it is precisely this use of touchscreens that leads to negative health consequences.

 

The German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Foodstuffs and Catering Industry in Germany describes an example of this: An operator of self-service restaurants had modified his cashiers’ workstations to use touchscreen monitors. In comparison to the former combination of monitor and keyboard, cashiers increasingly complained about pains in the wrist and arm as well as shoulder and back pain. The main problem was that the position of the touchscreen was too steep – it was oriented to the guidelines of the Ordinance of Workstations with Visual Display Units [Bildschirmarbeitsverordnung]. This resulted in stressful hand/arm positions during its operation. The employees’ problems were ultimately resolved by positioning the monitors significantly more horizontally and moving them closer to the body.

In an article dated 29 November 2013, computer magazine PC-Welt gave tips on good health when working on touchscreens. The key findings are:

 

• Use touchscreens that can also be swivelled quite horizontally. When laying it flat be sure that there are no reflections (e.g. from the room lighting) and that the monitor is closer to the body. Even the former Apple CEO Steve Jobs clarified at a press conference in October 2011: “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical!”

 

• Anyone, whose productive work involves a lot of text processing, should definitely revert to an external keypad, as the virtual on-screen keyboard lacks “tactile feedback” (the identifiableness of the virtual keys by touch) and the wrist is more stressed when writing a lot on touchscreens. External wireless keyboards and mice are therefore an ideal supplement to the desk: They do not require inconvenient cables and are hence easy to put away, for quickly alternating between touch and classic desktop work.

(Source: “Usability in Germany” Association; PC-Welt: www.pcwelt.de/ratgeber/gesund-arbeiten-mit-touchscreens)

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