Laptops: Ergonomic Advice for Students

Laptops: Ergonomic Advice for Students
The problems
Laptops are not very ergonomic – it’s not usually possible to use them in a good posture and
they can cause you problems. You need to try to prevent:
Neck or eye problems from trying to see the screen at an awkward angle
Wrist and hand problems from bending your wrists to use the keyboard, or from overusing the other input devices (mouse, nipple, rollerball, pad etc)
Shoulder or back problems from carrying the laptop, or from reaching too far to use it,
or from using it extensively in an unusual posture such as slouching, bending
over or lying down.
Over-heating of the groin due to supporting the hot laptop on your lap (despite its
You will also be aware that laptops are tempting for thieves, and by carrying one in London,
on or off campus, you need to take steps to avoid being a victim of theft.
Here are some suggestions for how to prevent these problems:
Selecting a laptop
The first rule is – where possible don’t use a laptop for long periods, use a desktop computer.
You can arrange the desktop equipment much better so you can work with fewer postural
problems, and you can see and adjust the screen much more clearly.
If you do need to buy a laptop, look out for:
As low a weight as possible (3kg or less) for computer and accessories.
As large and clear a screen as possible (14" diagonal or more)
As large size keys as possible
Detachable or height adjustable screen if possible
As long a battery life as possible, or extra transformer/cable sets so you only carry the
computer, not the cables etc
Touch pad, rollerball or external mouse rather than 'nipple' trackpoint device
Wrist pad between keyboard and front edge of table
Tilt adjustable keyboard
Facility for attaching external mouse and numeric keypad
Friction pads underneath to prevent computer sliding across surfaces when in use
Sufficient memory and speed (for the applications used)
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"Add-ons" that improve usability and reduce maintenance time, such as (removable)
CD-ROM drives and additional memory
Lightweight non-branded carrying case with handle and shoulder straps (or normal
rucksack with extra padding inside – this will disguise the fact that you are
carrying a laptop at all).
Try to hire a locker on campus, so you can leave your laptop securely when you don’t need it
with you. If you need to use the laptop in the library or in a cafe, get a cable lock to secure it
to the table while you browse for books or re-fill your coffee.
Working on a laptop
Find a posture in which you can keep your wrists straight (neutral, in line with your
forearms), your shoulders relaxed and your back supported, and in which you
feel comfortable.
Align the laptop centrally with your body – don’t twist round to use it.
Take frequent breaks from working on the laptop, and get up and stretch and walk
around, at least once an hour and more frequently if possible.
Change your posture often, whenever it becomes even slightly uncomfortable; don’t
stay in one position for more than 15 minutes or so.
Rest your eyes frequently by looking at something far away or by closing them, for a
minute or two.
Remember to blink more, to prevent your eyes feeling dry.
Take whatever software training you can because the more skilled you are with the
programs you use, the less time you will need to spend on the laptop.
Do not support the laptop on your lap (because of the heat).
Make sure the laptop is supported and stable and will not wobble or slide as you work.
Adjust the laptop screen angle (and height if possible) to reduce stretching your neck,
and to minimise glare on the screen.
If possible, if using the laptop for long periods, attach an external full-size keyboard
and an external mouse.
Think before you use the laptop – try to cut down intensive usage because the more
you use it, the more likely you are to develop problems.
If you are sharing the laptop, eg in a teaching session, try to move the laptop round to
face each person in turn, rather than each stretch to reach and see it.
And if you start to get symptoms such as aches and pains, associated with your use of the
laptop, consult your doctor or Student Health immediately.
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More information
System Concepts health and safety risks of laptop computers
Healthy computing for young people
Learn how to keyboard on a laptop ergonomically
Mobile ergonomics-safety for people on the go
How to make your laptop workstation ERGONOMIC
Guidelines from the International Ergonomics Association
System Concepts 10 Tips for comfortable working with computers
Advice from an Ergonomist
If you want to contact an Ergonomist or an ergonomics company (such as System Concepts)
for further advice, log on to the website of The Ergonomics Society, from where you can download a list of ergonomics
If you have special needs, or you want to find assistive equipment for use with laptops, such
as wrist-rests, ergonomic mice, split keyboards, etc. try
Prepared by Rachel Benedyk at the UCL Interaction Centre
Author contact r,
Version of February 2007
Supported by System Concepts and Adapt-IT
Sponsored by the Stephen Pheasant Memorial Fund
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Make sure your battery lasts so you don’t end up having to work like this!
(Incident photographed recently in a classroom in UCL)
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