Researchers at System Concepts Limited, an ergonomics consultancy firm, will assess the physical components of a range of laptops, notebooks and handheld computers and look at the effects on users. They aim to survey a wide range of people and have contacted several hundred organisations to take part in the research.
According to managing director of System Concepts, Tom Stewart, there are a wide range of issues associated with the use of portable computers. "Physical discomfort in the neck and shoulders occurs because the screen and keyboard are close together. There are also problems with posture because laptops can be heavy to carry around," Stewart said. Perhaps the biggest health risk associated with mobile working is the amount of stress it can cause, Stewart believes. "If you have access to a notebook you are never getting away from work. People are also worried about being mugged because they are carrying expensive computer equipment around," he said.
In the long term it is hoped the Health and Safety Executive will use the survey's findings to extend guidance on the use of portable computers. "At present, although there is plenty of research and guidance on the use of full-sized display screen equipment there is little specific information on which to base guidance on the safe and effective use of portable computers," Stewart said.
Product manager for Compaq David Matthews accepts portable computers can add to the modern day pressure to "work ever longer" but feels the cons are outweighed by the pros. "Often people have dead time when they are sitting at airports or whatever and the portable will allow them to continue work they would otherwise have to do late at night back home. If used sensibly, portables can enhance working life."
According to Matthews all new products undergo extensive ergonomic testing and come with comfort and safety guides to make users aware of health risks.