We take a look at the ergonomic peripherals market

Are you sitting comfortably?

As any computer user knows, long periods of time spent hunched over your keyboard or peering at your monitor can result in some serious aches and pains. Repetitive strain injury is one of the most commonly reported ailments related to heavy computer use and can cause severe pain.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that in 2008 to 2009, 9.3 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (such as RSI), representing a total of 538,000 sufferers.

While these figures encompass all lines of work, the HSE also commissioned research specifically into the discomforts reported by display screen equipment (DSE) users. Over half reported headaches and eye discomfort, while 47 per cent experienced neck pain, 39 per cent shoulder pain and 37 per cent back pain.

“The results showed a significant influence of DSE work, with the occurrence of symptoms higher among those who spent more time at their computer at work, and those who worked for longer without a break,” says David Lewis of the Health and Safety Executive.

According to Rene Batenburg, Trust’s UK country director, painful injuries can cost more than the worker’s health. “Employee welfare with regards to ergonomics is now a concern among many companies keen not only to improve comfort and productivity but also to avoid compensation claims for permanent damage caused by RSI,” he observes.

With the continuing popularity of portable computing – mobile PC shipments were up almost 40 per cent in the first quarter of the year – notebooks and netbooks can cause considerable pain if not complemented with the right accessories.

“The problem with laptops is the way they are designed. Because you can’t move the keyboard and screen apart, users tend to stretch further forward than they should, leading to a hunching of the shoulders. As a result, neck, back and shoulder problems are all on the increase,” notes Ian Fletcher- Price, CEO of Posturite, a company that provides ergonomic solutions direct to office and home workers.

“There are plenty of ways to make laptops safer and more comfortable to use. For example, by using a separate keyboard and mouse you can place the laptop on a stand so that your eyes are at the same level as the top of the screen. This will avoid the stretching and hunching that cause many of the problems.”

Bruce Whiting, managing director of The Keyboard Company suggests that the right ergonomic keyboard can make a huge difference. “Many keyboards are available now which have an ‘A’ shape to the keys. These designs keep the wrist angle more natural and comfortable. A keyboard with a good switch helps to reduce the amount of thumping we do on the keyboard. Mechanical switches don’t have to be pressed all the way down and they don’t get stiffer as they get older,” he explains.

“The keyboard should be centred on the space bar. If the keyboard gets in the way a mini keyboard or left-handed keyboard will help. Everything should sit within the width of the shoulders.”

Of course, ergonomic mice are equally big business. A traditional mouse usually means the user having to twist their arm into an unnatural position – which can cause injuries to the wrist, elbow, shoulder or back. “If you use a computer mouse it’s a good idea to invest in an ergonomically correct mouse that minimises the strain on your wrist,” Batenburg says.

Other industry experts suggest using alternative peripherals to control the cursor. “The market for pen tablets is ever increasing as the awareness grows on how a pen tablet has more ergonomic properties than most mouse variants,” claims Andrew Muscat, Wacom’s channel development manager for retail and e-tail in the UK and Ireland.

“Using a traditional computer mouse involves clicking continuously for a long length of time and having your hand and forearm twisted at an awkward, unnatural angle. This can lead to aching body parts which significantly increases the risk of RSI. The digital pen assumes all the functions of a traditional computer mouse like navigating, dragging and dropping, clicking, etc, and provides vital ergonomic advantages,” he continues.

Whiting, meanwhile, suggests that ‘central pointing devices’ are becoming increasingly popular in regions such as Scandinavia. “The most popular ones are like a wrist rest but have a rolling bar mechanism placed so it sits adjacent to the space bar. They are very fast and intuitive to use, address all the risks, and some have added function like cut and paste buttons which also make for less strain,” he observes.

Another growing product area in the sector is adjustable monitor arms. The Health and Safety Executive advises positioning a display so that the top of it is at eye level. In order for this to be achievable, offices and consumers often have to invest in solutions that can be moved according to their needs.

“Top-end monitor arms are excellent in desk-sharing environments because the adjustment is touch sensitive and monitors do not need to be placed on top of telephone directories and other improvised ways of setting the monitor up for each individual user,” comments Nick Buckland, managing director of BK Services, a specialist in ergonomic office products.

According to Buckland, the market for ergonomic products is booming. “The largest market sector has always been in the office refurb sector or relocations, giving the perfect opportunity to include workstation upgrades. However, there is a growing trend towards retro-fitting,” he says.

“Conscientious employers want to make their place of work as comfortable as possible for their employees; this increases productivity and efficiency, reduces mistakes and therefore increases profitability. All this for a relatively small investment.”

SRP: £19.99
Distributor: Micro-P

They say: The vertical position of your hand makes using this mouse very comfortable for people who work intensively on a computer

Specs: Silver and soft black rubberised chassis, contoured upright design to help prevent RSI and Carpel Tunnel, 800dpi optical sensor; smooth teflon feet; responsive tactile feedback buttons

SRP: £76.99
Distributor: Interactive Ideas

They say: Heavy duty, metal deskmounted stand for LCD monitors to create an ergonomic and organised workspace with a high-tech look

Specs: Adjusts monitor height and positioning, includes cable guides and tools for mounting, carries weight up to 25kg, table clamp with rubber patches included

SRP: £128
Distributor: Ingram Micro

They say: Increase viewing comfort – help reduce eye, back and neck strain; patented CF motion technology provides premium ease-of-use display adjustment

Specs: Holds weight up to 9.1kg, extends up to 64cm, 33cm height range, arm folds back over the base, cable management feature, base includes theft deterrent anchor holes for cable locks

SRP: £9.99
Distributor: Direct

They say: The unique ergonomic design of the Wrist Donut levels, supports and cushions the wrist joint and lower palm of the hand against any hard surface

Specs: Weighs less than 30g, velcro fastening, available in three sizes for wrist circumferences between 11cm and 21cm, six colour options, can be worn on both hands

SRP: £48.99
Distributor: Realtime

They say: For all the left-handed gamers out there, your long hours of using gaming mice that do not fit are over

Specs: Ergonomic left-hand design, extra-large non-slip buttons, 3500dpi infrared sensor, 1ms response, five independently programmable buttons, adjustable sensitivity, 16-bit ultra-wide data path, 15g of acceleration

SRP: £74.99
Distributor: Ingram Micro, Computers Unlimited

They say: Scroll, zoom, rotate or flip through photos and documents – easily and intuitively. Everything at your fingertips

Specs: Battery-free ergonomic pen, multi-touch support, paper-like tablet surface with 16:10 aspect ratio, reversible tablet design for left or right-handed use, four customisable buttons, attached pen holder, USB connection

SRP: £9.99
Distributor: Interactive Ideas

They say: Brings your notebook screen to the ideal viewing height and distance for an ergonomic working position with increased comfort

Specs: 10cm elevation, fits notebooks with screens up to 16-inches, protective rubber pads prevent laptops sliding, protects furniture from heat, curved shape leaves room for cables and improves airflow

SRP: £147.99
Distributor: Meroncourt

They say: Design and function of the components encourage a healthy posture, while giving space to maintain a balanced overview of all peripherals

Specs: Kova mouse with v-shaped ergonomic fit; Arvo keyboard with compact design; Sota mousepad and Apuri four-port USB hub with mouse bungee. Devices also available separately

SRP: £210.33
Distributor: The Keyboard Company

They say: Wrist rest with an integrated central ‘bar’ pointing device; easy to use keyboard ‘lifters’ elevate your keyboard to the proper height

Specs: Seven programmable buttons, elevate/angle the keyboard, ‘bar’ pointing device controls cursor

SRP: £440.63
Distributor: The Keyboard Company

They say: The fully ergonomic fits the shape of hands and different lengths of fingers

Specs: Split design, central number cluster, tilted keys and pads, vertical key columns, thumb keys for commands, in-built palm resting pads

SRP: £69.99
Distributor: Ingram Micro

They say: Gives you options depending on what you’re doing – from watching movies in bed to sharing photos at the kitchen table

Includes: Pivoting riser which works with any laptop up to 15.6 inches and elevates to three angles; wireless laser mouse with responsive cursor control; compact, wireless keyboard with number pad and full-size layout

SRP: £189 (plus VAT)
Distributor: BK Services

They say: Most flat screen arms can be ergonomically positioned but many require difficult manual adjustment. Ellipta’s unique weight tensioning spring adjusts to new positions with fingertip control and it has a unique four port USB hub

Specs: Adjustable positioning to reduce RSI risk, lateral movement for information sharing, four USB ports, space-saving design, also available as a multiscreen version

SRP: £99.99
Distributor: Gem Distribution

They say: The innovative shape of the keyboard and mouse encourage a more natural hand, wrist and forearm posture

Includes: Mouse with ergonomic design, four-way scrolling, battery life indicator and customisable buttons; keyboard with ergonomic design, integrated palm rest, email and internet hot keys

SRP: £19.99
Distributor: Gem Distribution

They say: Work with your hands in a more natural position with this compact ergonomic keyboard. Just plug it in and start typing – more comfortably

Specs: Curved design for comfort, spill-resistant, ultra-thin profile keys, internet and multimedia keys, space-saving design

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