Ergonomics done right.®
November 1st, 2011

Field Workers: Where is the Best Location for Your Touchscreen or Laptop in Your Vehicle?

By Blake McGowan, CPE

A common concern among oil/gas or utility industry workers is: “Where is the best location for my touchscreen or laptop in my vehicle?”  With modern advances in Wi-Fi accessibility, many companies have equipped field workers with touchscreens or laptops in their vehicles to improve productivity and the flow of information from the field to the operation centers.

Typically, touchscreens or laptops are located to the right of the driver and mounted on a post between the instrument panel and passenger seat.  This location often results in back discomfort from sustained back twisting and shoulder discomfort from excessive reaching.

Recently, Dr. Richard Marklin and his team of research engineers at Marquette University, sponsored by the Electrical Power Research Institute, conducted a detailed biomechanical-kinematic (joint angles) and muscle activity (electromyography), performance, and preference analysis of the following four common touchscreen or laptop locations (Saginus et al., 2010):

  • A – Laptop located directly over the passenger seat
  • B – Laptop mounted on a post located between the instrument panel and passenger seat
  • C – Touchscreen mounted to the right of the steering wheel
  • D – Laptop mounted to the right of the steering wheel

Results of the detailed analysis found that locating the touchscreen or laptop closer to the steering wheel (Locations C and D) is best.  In these locations:

  • Kinematics improved as a result of reduced trunk rotation and shoulder angles.
  • Muscle activity was reduced for the spine and shoulder muscles.
  • Ease of use and productivity improved.

In addition, drivers preferred locations C and D.  Overall, getting the touchscreen or laptop closer to the steering wheel will improve the biomechanics of working inside a vehicle and will reduce the risk for musculoskeletal disorders.

Saginus, K.A., Marklin, R.W., Selley, P., Simoneau, G.G., and Freier, S. (2011). Biomechanical Effects of Mobile Computer Location in a Vehicle Cab:  Human Factors, 53 (5), 474-488.