New Risk of Blackberry Thumb

At Winter & Company, we are often asked about the latest risks to the health & safety of office workers.  One such risk which is being talked about more and more is the latest repetitive strain injury affecting users of Blackberry mobile devices.  This article explains what the risks are, and suggests a few measures which may 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.

The risk to organisations is pretty high, given that the last reported claim for a repetitive strain injury involved Barclays Bank paying compensation of over £240k to an ex-employee who was forced to give up work with severe pains in her right hand following prolonged use of a poorly set-up workstation.

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 it’s 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.