Managing Health: Can You Hear Me Now?

Oct. 10, 2011
We need to be smart about how we use smart phones. With 187 billion text messages sent last year, many Americans – and their hands, wrists and shoulders – are feeling the pain.

The month of August was crazy. Congress brought us to the brink with the debt crisis. And then, in 1 week, an earthquake startled residents throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Hurricane Irene closed the East Coast for 2 days, leaving several million people without power. At the same time, the market was up and down like an unpredictable roller coaster, and speculation of a double-dip recession occupied the headlines of most major newspapers. My cell phone buzzed all month long with updates I receive from several news outlets.

Incredibly, yet another summer is coming to a close. As I write this article, many of my coworkers are taking vacation time to spend the last few free days with their kids.

With the return of school comes a return to “normal.” Unfortunately, rush-hour traffic will intensify, school busses will be back on the roads and young pedestrians will be milling around the sidewalks again.

Without a doubt, students will be sporting new back-to-school fashions and many will be carrying the latest back-to-school gadgets; I’ll bet a few of those gadgets include the latest mobile devices. These devices are great and very quickly are becoming more common.

Would you believe that there are over 300 million mobile phones in the United States? That means that there are almost as many phones as there are residents. And of that 300 million, over 75 million are smart phones with the latest games and apps, as well as Twitter, Facebook, texting and e-mail capabilities.

It is not just the number of phones that is astonishing, but also the frequency of their use. In 2010, there were 2.2 trillion talk minutes used and 187 billion text messages sent! That’s an average of almost 5.2 days and 625 text message minutes per phone.

That’s a whole lot of texting. As innocent of a task as texting sounds, it can pose a variety of problems. Now, being the preferred method of communication among individuals ages 18 to 21, and one of the most popular among adults, these problems are on the rise. Because we are not particularly good at high-frequency precision movements, we end up with sore hands or fingers from typing, and sore thumbs from navigating through screens (BlackBerry Thumb). Texters experience similar physical aches and pains as office workers do while typing.

Repetitive and awkward postures in the hands, wrist, shoulders and neck make these individuals prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis and tendonitis. In addition to these conditions, you may have also heard of – and maybe experienced – iPad Neck. iPad Neck is the result of flexing our necks for long periods of time when using iPad’s integration of touch screen and visual display.

To reduce the incidence of these conditions, consider following some of these recommendations:

➤ Limit texting periods to small doses. Be aware of prolonged and high-speed texting.

➤ Rest as needed. Any signs of discomfort, soreness or pain should be an immediate indication to take a break.

➤ Avoid using only one hand (if possible) while texting.

➤ Stretch. Prop the palm of your hand up by placing your finger tips (hand facing down) on a flat surface and slowly apply pressure downward while your fingers spread out and your palm eventually contacts the surface. Repeat several times.

Other recommendations include enabling “smart type” (word completion feature) on your device. This will reduce the number of thumb or finger exertions required to complete a word or sentence. Use hands-free devices to make phone calls and use a “speech-to-text” application if you need to communicate using text but wish to speak, rather than type.

Driven to Distraction

In addition to the physical aches and pains of using mobile devices, there are ramifications and dangers to people who use them while driving. The root cause of the potential harms of mobile devices is that their design pushes humans to perform activities that are beyond their capabilities.

Their personalized ring tones and the ability to get information or make contact with others instantaneously is appealing, but also dangerous. Those tones are designed to grab your attention, and those attention grabbers are sometimes hard to ignore. Listening to a conversation or reading a text message draws your full attention, and doing this while driving means you are not paying attention to the road.

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous behaviors we can engage in. While there are many activities that fall under the definition of distracted driving, I think we can all agree that mobile phone use (whether talking or texting) is the most common.

In 2009 alone, distracted driving contributed to 20 percent of injury crashes and killed a total of 5,474 people in accidents that were

We could spend more time on disturbing facts and horrifying stories of the impact distracted driving has had on victims and their families. Or, we can just accept the problem and commit ourselves to not contributing to it. Research proves that mobile phone use and texting slows reaction time and causes people to miss visual and auditory stimuli.

For several years we have been bombarded by reports pinning the cause of accidents on drivers who were talking on their cell phones. You would think by now the message would have been driven home. But, unfortunately, people are not listening to the reports and the statistics. It’s time to get on board and develop some common-sense operating procedures for safe mobile phone use. When driving:

➤ Turn the phone off or put it in your purse or briefcase in the back seat.

➤ If you must make a call, pull over to a safe location.

➤ If you are the passenger in a car and the driver is using their mobile device, ask him to put it down.

➤ If you are the caller and the receiver of your phone call is driving, tell her to return your call when she is not driving.

Although new technology brings some risk and danger when misused, it continues to provide great benefit, and has changed the way in which we communicate, forever.

So, as we return to our school-year routines, let’s focus on the task at hand and get ourselves, and our students, from point A to point B – safely. Can you hear me now?

James Mallon, CPE, is a vice president with Humantech, which delivers practical solutions that impact safety, quality and productivity. For additional information, visit or call 734-663-6707. Mallon can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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