Design for extremes

Our last blog talked about “designing for average”, but designing for average doesn’t just mean thinking about height; we also need to consider age and weight. Josie recently tuned in to Humantech’s Webinar on Designing the Workplace for the Aging and Obese Population… kind of a touchy subject. But the presentation definitely reminded us of how these non-occupational factors can contribute to the risk of injury in the workplace. Josie submitted this blog…

When considering an obese population, there are few key things we need to remember when designing workstations.

Number 1 Obese individuals typically have a larger abdomen; therefore, the forward reach is further than the reach to the same item, for a non-obese person. The strain on the shoulders and back is therefore also greater.

Number 2  Obese individuals have a decreased range of motion and flexibility in the back and hips; therefore, reaching the same distance is more challenging for an obese person.

Number 3 Obese individuals carry extra weight; when lifting from the floor, this weight places an increased load on the back and knee joints as well as an increase in oxygen requirement.

The main things we need to make certain of when considering an obese population are minimizing reach and keeping lifting heights between knee and shoulder… fortunately, these are things we’ve been aiming for all along!

When considering an aging population, a host of decrements makes the list; decreases in movement speed, precision, range of motion, strength, force control, endurance, visual acuity, contrast detection, and sensitivity to glare, can all reduce performance, increase errors, and leave older workers at a disadvantage. Fortunately, many aging workers are experts at their job; their muscles have had the time to develop endurance and they are just as efficient as a 25 year old worker who is new to the same job. (Actually, younger workers get hurt more often than older workers!) But, as we age, muscle, joint, and vision changes are inevitable. If we need to ask older workers to change jobs, as often happens during a layoff, we need to particularly cautious in how we implement this change.

As these populations grow (no pun intended), we need to understand and account for how their physiology changes the way that they work. Although guidelines are being developed to help us overcome the challenges of accommodating these populations, the overall goal of ergonomics does not change; fit work to people, all kinds of people.

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