From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Companies At Risk from PDA-Related Injuries to Employees

Workers’ compensation claims over injuries caused by personal digital assistants (PDAs) could become a corporate headache, according to a Washington DC lawyer, but they can be minimized.

Lawyer Frank Morris stressed in a recent USA Today article that employers need to develop policies on PDA use.

The risk is growing apace with the popularity of PDAs. The family includes palmtops, hand-held computers, even pocket computers. The devices help employees remain productive when they are away from their computers as they can store, organize and retrieve information quickly. There is a price: if used repetitively and haphazardly PDAs can cause symptoms such as hand throbbing, tendonitis and swelling

“If you develop full-blown symptoms, it’s pretty severe. Employers can train people how to correctly hold and use the handheld device to write brief e-mails,” Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell University, told USA Today.

A recent article in the online publication Healthy Computing sees another way to minimize risk. It pointed out that one culprit in injuries is text entry on a PDA, a repetitive motion. Noting that the area to enter text on a typical PDA isn’t that big, which exacerbates the problem, the article advises learning the PDA’s shortcuts. Many offer combinations for copying and pasting text, which is easier than retyping information on the small device. And some software programs let you configure your entire screen to accept stylus input, according to the article, instead of just a small area at the bottom. It emphasized that bigger hand motions means less stress.

The best solution is not to enter data on the PDA, according to the Healthy Computing article. It advises entering all contacts, appointments and information on the PC via a comfortable keyboard and big screen, then synchronizing. It’s a way to use the PDA mainly for information retrieval.

Most of the advice in the article amounts to finding ways to spend less time using the devices, a measure endorsed by Stacey Doyon, president-elect of the Chicago-based American Society of Hand Therapists.

Thumb injuries related to BlackBerrys, Treos and Sidekicks are occurring in part because employees who rely on the technology also use them extensively beyond normal working hours, she told USA Today. “I’ve seen people use them for hours on end. You’re really stressing the fingers,” she added. “In the workplace, you should dock them into a regular-size keyboard and monitor.”

Lawyer Morris told USA Today that employers face an additional risk of liability because some employees could argue they’re entitled to overtime if a staffer is expected to use a company-provided PDA after work hours.

Sources: USA Today; Healthy Computing