Newsletter Sign-Up
Search Site

Beware of Blackberry Thumb

Use of Blackberry mobile devices is constantly increasing, with the last count being over 27 million users worldwide. Whereby the use of such devices is certainly enabling, in that it allows the user to stay in contact by phone, text message or email wherever they may be, the flipside of the coin is that it becomes increasingly difficult to switch off, and have an excuse not to respond immediately – particularly to a work email.
 
More and more people can be seen tapping away at their blackberry keyboard while sitting on the train, the bus, a car (while not driving of course), or even while walking down the street. The higher the level of use, the higher the risk becomes of developing a repetitive strain injury (RSI), which can cause pain and discomfort in the fingers, wrists and lower arms.
 
The latest RSI to be talked about recently has specifically been affecting users of Blackberry mobile devices.  So, what are the risks and what measures can be taken to reduce the risks of "BlackBerry Thumb".
 
BlackBerry Thumb is a term referring to the discomfort felt in the thumb, following prolonged use of a BlackBerry mobile device.  Doctors have reported that this repetitive use could cause arthritis, or harm tendons in the thumb, although as yet nobody has come forward with a diagnosed case.
 
Ergonomics experts have said that you should not be making more than a few hundred thumb movements a day, which would equate to around 50 words. Chronic BlackBerry users may be typing in excess of ten times this figure on a regular basis.
There have been some well publicised large awards, for example, to Kathleen Tovey and Kathleen Harris, both typists at the Inland Revenue, who were awarded £82,000 and £79,000 respectively.
 
Repetitive strain injuries are estimated to cost UK industry up to £20 billion a year in lost productivity and overt 2.8 million days in absenteeism. Latest estimates are that 448,000 British workers now suffer from RSI and 4.7 million working days are lost per year in Great Britain. The average time taken off work by someone suffering with an RSI is 18.3 days.
 
Every day, six people in the UK leave their jobs due to an RSI condition, and 1 in 50 of all workers in the UK have reported an RSI condition of some sort.
 
Earlier this year it was reported that an Italian girl needed treatment after she’d developed a 100-a-day text habit, while a 13-year-old girl developed “texting” tendonitis, according to the Medical Journal of Australia, after sending nearly ten messages a day for a month.
Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can include manipulation of the vertebrae in the neck, arm and hand stretches, and cortisone injections to dampen inflammation of the thumb tendons. With treatment and rest, recovery from the pain of using a handheld device usually takes within six to eight weeks, but in extreme cases it can take up to six months, or even longer.
 
Simple control measures which can prevent the realisation of BlackBerry Thumb and its further consequences include restricting the amount of usage of a BlackBerry to, for example no more than 2 short emails in any one hour period.
 
For operators requiring higher usage than this, a full-size external keyboard should be provided and used. Fully compatible and BlackBerry approved wireless compact folding keyboards are available from around £50+VAT.
 
Failing to advise employees of this risk and possibly neglecting to provide a compatible separate keyboard could result in compensation being awarded to sufferers of BlackBerry Thumb.
 
It has been a legal requirement for organisations to provide Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Risk Assessments since 1992, but many are still unaware that the use of BlackBerry mobile devices should be included within these risk assessments where use is habitual.
If there is a risk of harm from the repetitive use of any item of Display Screen Equipment, then it should be considered as a foreseeable hazard and risk assessed. This process will result in a recommendation being made, which will reduce the likelihood of harm occurring, from the identified hazard.
 
The Management of Health & Safety At Work Regulations 1999, as well as the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992, call for DSE Risk Assessments to be carried out as a pro-active preventative measure, rather than a reactive measure. The following other legislation will also apply in ensuring legal conformity in this area.
 
The Health and Safety At Work Etc. Act 1974 is the main piece of legislation in health & safety, which, amongst other things calls for a safe place of work, with safe systems of work to be put in place. Failing to provide these two key requirements will render an organisation vulnerable to prosecution under this Act if resultant harm has occurred.
 
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require that all work equipment be considered as suitable and sufficient for the purpose which it is being used, as well as being maintained in safe condition. If an input device such as a mouse or keyboard causes harm due to inadequate size or condition, then an organisation would be vulnerable to prosecution under these Regulations.
 
There is a duty on employers to plan the activities of their employees, so that they may work in a safe way. Failure to plan which results in an employee working in an unsafe way – for example spending too much time typing on a BlackBerry, could easily leave the organisation vulnerable to prosecution, as well as the practical burden of having an employee off work.