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4. Portable Computers – Computer Ergonomics

  • Content last reviewed: November 2010

Since the keyboard and screen on a portable computer (also called a laptop computer) are attached, it is often difficult to position the computer to get a comfortable posture for both keyboarding and viewing. Either the keyboard is too high or the screen is too low. The importance of optimum posture increases as the duration and frequency of computer use increases. Awkward postures can be tolerated for short periods of time. Laptops are not ideal for extended periods of use; however, they are increasingly used in this manner. Below are some good practices:

General

  1. For general use, place the laptop on a flat surface with the screen tilted back 110-150°.
  2. If desk use is extended some additional equipment should be used. As the keyboard and screen are attached it makes it difficult to optimally position the computer for suitable typing and viewing conditions. Ideally, a docking station or port replicator with a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse should be used. However, another option is to use a separate keyboard and mouse, then raise the laptop such that the screen is in an optimal position for viewing to avoid excessive neck bend (viewing angle of not more than 15° down). Bifocal users should take extra care to position the screen to allow viewing without awkward head positions.
  3. Take short "micro-breaks" frequently. Focus on a distant object for a few seconds.
  4. Avoid prolonged periods of use. (See MOL Guideline on Rest Breaks for Computer Operators.)
  5. Optimize viewing conditions:
    1. Maintain a comfortable viewing distance (in the range of 40-74 cm). Font size can be adjusted to allow the laptop to be placed for both good viewing and a comfortable body position.
    2. Place laptop to minimize glare from lights and windows
    3. Adjust brightness and contrast to suit lighting conditions.
    4. Keep screen clean.
    5. Have regular eye examinations and inform your eye care provider of your computer use.
  6. The Health and Safety Guide provided with the computer should be referenced.

Hotel/Home

  1. Some larger hotels provide rooms that accommodate computer use (i.e. suitable desks, chairs and connections). Inquire about these when travelling.
  2. If the desk provided at a hotel is not suitable, ask if an adjustable ironing board is available. It makes a useable adjustable worksurface. Yes, you can try this at home.
  3. Carry an extension cord and extra long phone cable, in case the outlets are across the room.
  4. Use a chair with good back support. A pillow or rolled up towel can be used to improve support.
  5. Sit on a pillow to raise yourself if necessary. Use a briefcase or other solid item as a footrest.

Vehicles

  1. Store the computer in a manner that avoids long reaches. Long reaches (particularly behind the body into the back seat) and twisting at the waist during lifting increase the risk of injury. For example, this can occur if the computer is stored in the back of a two door vehicle. If a strap or other item catches while lifting sudden, high forces are placed on the muscles and joints involved, greatly increasing the possibility of injury.
  2. Laptop computers should not be used by the operator/driver of the vehicle, while the vehicle is in use. The vehicle should be safely parked while the operator/driver is using the laptop computer.
  3. When using the laptop in the vehicle, it should be positioned directly in front of you rather than off to one side. Move the seat as far back as possible, or move to the passenger seat, if necessary. Place the laptop on a briefcase or other flat object to allow for a level typing surface.
  4. There are a number of computer stands on the market. The best type of stand, or whether a stand is even required, will depend on type and extent of use, the type of vehicle and other considerations such as passengers in the vehicle.
  5. Position your vehicle so as to minimize glare, if possible. Use the visors and possibly a roll down blind that attaches to the window.

Carrying

  1. When carrying the laptop over any distance, shift the load from side to side and between hands and shoulders.
  2. Batteries add weight. Avoid carrying an extra battery if you know you will have access to AC power.
  3. Avoid putting a lot of extra materials into your laptop case. Use another brief case if needed. This will reduce the load on one side and better balance the overall load.
  4. Avoid carrying a lot of hard copies of documents in the computer case. Work from electronic copies where possible.
  5. If carrying more than one item, try to balance the load on both sides of your body.
  6. Consider using a cart to reduce the amount of carrying.
  7. Backpacks are a good alternative when carrying over uneven terrain or in snowy conditions.

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