Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
February 4, 2015

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Static loading: the DSE risk from smartphones and tablets

When Apple computers recently announced its record-breaking profits, due in part to selling almost 75 million iPhones in the last three months of 2014, my heart sank. Not because I don’t have shares in Apple, but because of the increasing problems I see around static loading from smartphone and tablet use.

Static loading is what happens when effort is used to keep, for example, an arm still. Think holding your smartphone while scrolling through your Twitter feed. In this scenario, the arm muscles tense as they are held aloft, causing fatigue and eventually pain. Restricted blood flow adds to the problem as it impedes the body’s natural healing process.

“Muscles subject to static work need 12 times longer to recover from fatigue,” said Vern Putz-Anderson, public health advisor for the US’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in his book Cumulative Trauma Disorders: A Manual for Musculoskeletal Diseases of the Upper Limbs. “…in the absence of sufficient recovery time, prolonged and excessive static work will weaken joints, ligaments and tendons.”

Of course, smartphones and tablets aren’t totally responsible for computer-related static loading, but they certainly are making the problems worse. Now that it’s so easy to constantly be on-screen – switching from desktop to laptop to tablet to smartphone and back again and again – our muscles are never getting any downtime. We’ve yet to see a full decade of widespread smartphone and tablet use. Where will we be in the coming years, when tablets and phablets (phone/tablet hybrid) replace desktops and laptops altogether?

Perhaps we should go the way of the French and implement rules requiring employees to shut down after six in the evening? I suspect such rules will be found to be unsustainable for many reasons. Either way, they won’t help with static loading (and other potential digital device related physical health problems), because even if you shut off from work, it’s unlikely that you’ve shut off completely.

It’s time we equip employees with strategies to help them protect themselves, both from the infringement on their work/life balance and the physical repercussions of all that tap, tap, tapping.

We need DSE risk assessments that take a holistic approach, including an examination of the employee’s total daily digital device use. Next, we need to raise awareness about potential health problems – static loading and beyond – and the important part that dynamic movement and digital downtime plays in health.

We also need to empower employees with a good knowledge of ergonomic set up and the ability to apply it (at least a best-case-scenario set up) in every environment in which they operate, e.g. at work, at home, on the train, in their local café, etc.

Finally, we need to encourage employees and companies to come up with their own ideas for integrating dynamic movement and digital downtime into their day.

Get a little digital downtime with these ideas:

  • Start iFree meetings
  • Ration your clicks and taps: ask yourself, do I really need to be doing this?
  • Ring rather than text; walk rather than ring
  • Limit checking emails, texts, and social media to pre-determined times throughout day
  • Limit internet surfing at lunch, by eating away from your desk without your smartphone
  • No digital devices after the watershed
  • No work email on weekends (with example set by senior managers)
  • Help colleagues too: copy only those people who absolutely need to know on emails

Raquel Baetz helps businesses keep their employees safe from the ill effects associated with prolonged digital device use. She is an independent computer workstation risk assessor, qualified via the British Safety Council. Raquel draws on her personal experience with chronic repetitive strain injury to inform the advice she gives. For info, visit

For your daily ergonomic tip, follow Raquel on Twitter at

Related Topics

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

For all Fibromyalgia sufferers – This is a warning about using smartphones and tablets… I am a fibromyalgia sufferer and have had it for the last 29 years and have had many problems with all sorts of muscular spasms and extreme pain etc, but a couple of years ago now I started to suffer from terrible pains in my shoulds and my neck. Now initially I thought nothing of it, as I had suffered similar pains like it before and usually it would flair up and ease sometimes just a few weeks, other times a few months, but this time… Read more »