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Attack of the Killer Laptops

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The Health and Safety Executive will spend over £100,000 on a one-year study to examine the health risks of using portables. A team of five researchers at ergonomics consultancy System Concepts is conducting the investigation, which started two weeks ago. The joint effort plans to establish the effects on health of using notebooks or hand-held PCs and study differences between users, tasks and how machines are used. Tom Stewart, System Concepts MD, claims this is the first statistical study into the area. It hopes to establish that notebooks contain more potential health risks than desktops. These include neck strain due to the screen being connected to the keyboard, backache from carrying heavy PCs and stress from extended working hours, according to System Concepts. The company will concentrate on screen technology, where there is relatively little guidance compared with desktop PC counterparts. The company has also highlighted the fact that carrying a costly PC in public places could put people at risk from attack or theft. According to Stewart, researchers will survey organisations and give individuals questionnaires on the types, extent and experience of portable computer use as well as possible health effects related to use. They will analyse organisational records, including accident and injury statistics and training records, and compare health problems with those of desktop users. Stewart said his company had been using portables for years, but that they had found that using them could result in physical strain in the neck and back. "The concerns associated with the use of portable computers seem to be growing, although this may be due to the more widespread usage. This statistical study will provide evidence of how consistent the problems are," said Stewart. He added that there was a definite lack of guidance for employers. He said the study would focus on employer responsibilities regarding potential musculoskeletal risks associated with the prolonged use of portables.®

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