A Guide to Safe Laptop Use

This guide gives information about safe laptop use.

Common Problems

It is hard to adopt a good sitting posture when using a laptop, because of the type of keyboard and the position of the screen in relation to the keyboard. Typically, people bend forward, with hunched shoulders peering down at a screen. This causes:

  • Back and neck strain
  • Eye strain
  • Wrist and hand problems, from using the keyboard at an awkward angle, or with bent wrists.
  • Laptops can be heavy, and so cause problems if you need to carry them around for a long time.
  • Laptops are not designed for laps - they get too hot, and that could cause problems.


The main points to consider when using a laptop computer are:

  • Try and arrange your position and that of the computer so that you are sitting upright, with your back supported, shoulders relaxed, and neck and back straight.
  • Make sure that the laptop is directly in front of you, in line with your midline.
  • Make sure that your wrists are in a neutral position (in a straight line with your forearms) when typing, and try not to use the tracker ball or touch pad repeatedly for long periods of time - use an external mouse and / or keyboard if possible, to get a better position.
  • When possible use the laptop with a keyboard/Mouse or Dockingstation solution
  • Take regular breaks - change your position, walk around (if you can), and rest your eyes.
  • Use a stand for any reading material, so that it is in line with the laptop monitor.
  • Don't support the laptop on your lap, because it gets too hot.

Carrying a laptop around, particularly a heavy one, can also be problematic. The best solution is to have a very lightweight laptop, in a good quality rucksack-type bag. Some people suggest that a non-branded bag is better, because it disguises the fact that you have a laptop from potential thieves. If possible, leave the laptop in a safe place when not in use, so that you are not constantly carrying its weight.


If you are buying a laptop, try and get one that:

  • Is as light as possible
  • Has a long battery life, so that you don't need to carry cables around
  • Has the memory and power to run the programmes that you need
  • Has a large and clear screen
  • Has a friction pad on the bottom of the computer, to keep it in place when it is on a table.

Usually, the compromise is between screen size and weight. Consider your specific needs, and how much you will move the laptop, so that you can judge what is best for yourself.


Environmental factors

The key aspects of the environment to consider when using a laptop are the amount of light and glare, noise, heat and position of furniture. 

  • Light
    If possible, avoid sitting with direct light on the screen (sunlight or artificial light), as this causes glare. Also, avoid having a strong light source directly behind the screen, as this creates a "halo effect", making the screen harder to see.
    Adjust the angle of the screen so that it is as easy to read as possible.
    Adjust the illumination (brightness) of the screen to suit the lighting of the room. A rule of thumb is to have it as low as possible, but so that it is easy to read. A screen that is too bright causes more eye fatigue - and uses the battery more!

  • Noise
    As with any work that requires concentration, as little background noise as possible is best. If using headphones or earphones and listening to the laptop, make sure that the volume is not too high, as listening through earphones to high volumes has been found to be linked to high-frequency hearing loss. Also be aware that some laptops create high pitch noise, but this should be within healthy limits.

  • Heat
    Laptop computers create heat, and so need to be used in a position so that they can release the heat. Do not use the computer on your lap, or on a soft surface, as this prevents the heat from escaping.

  • Furniture
    The best environment is to place the laptop on a table, and use a good, supportive chair. If it is possible to use external devices, do. It may also be worth considering a laptop stand, which improves the ergonomic position of the keyboard and screen.
    While this is the ideal, it is not always possible. It is important to make sure, at the very least that the laptop is stable, on a hard surface (a folder is better than your knee) and that you can sit on a chair to use it.

    Also be careful of the cables - make sure that the power cable does not pose a trip hazard for you or other people.


Work Organisation, Information and Operation

It is generally recommended that people don't use laptops for long periods of time, so wherever possible, organise your work with this in mind. Always ensure that you take breaks, as described in the posture and movement section above.

If possible, take courses in how best to use the programmes that you use most frequently. IS Services provides a variety of courses on the common programmes used in College.