July 29th, 2005

Cornell University Study to Revisit the Thermostat Challenge

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Picture an asphalt roadway blistering in the summer heat. In the air-conditioned offices nearby, some employees are blowing on their hands for warmth while others in the same office are fanning themselves. Every summer variations of this scene play out across the United States, highlighting the challenge of keeping workplace temperatures at levels comfortable for all. A Cornell University study set for August should throw light on issues that will help employers meet the thermostat challenge ergonomically.

Earlier Cornell research, published by the university in November 2004, explains the findings in economic terms. Led by Alan Hedge, PhD CPE, the research found that when office temperatures went from 77 degrees to 68 degrees, workers typed only half as much and made more than twice as many errors. He estimated the decreased productivity resulted in a 10 percent increase in labor costs per affected worker.

Some 240 newspapers and many radio and television networks leaped on the Cornell findings, alacrity that indicates the scale of the thermostat problem. Interviewed for the Knight Ridder News Service about the study, Professor Hedge explained that it clearly struck a chord.

A host of factors complicate the quest for ambient comfort. For a start, people experience temperature differently. The number of occupants governs the temperature of a room and even the whole building. And the time of day is a factor. Idiosyncrasies in the construction of a building can also defy the thermostat, creating hot and cold spots in a room or an area.

Air conditioning falls down ergonomically when it doesn’t address these factors, and when it forces individuals to adapt to the system: ergonomists maintain that the system should adapt to the individual.

Writing in March 2004 for The Ergonomics Report



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