From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Does Workplace Design Data Ignore Impact of Obesity?

It’s easy to imagine that office furniture designed for slimmer people than present-day users could be uncomfortable and represent a risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain. Likewise, ill-fitting factory equipment could represent a health and safety risk, while undermining productivity. Ergonomically-sound design relies on accurate data on the human form. A recent study suggests that might not be available to Australian designers.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2008 that more than 7 million Australians aged 18 years and over are overweight or obese, representing an increase of 2.8 million over the previous 15 years. The study explores the implication of the increase, concluding that the all-important anthropometric data used to design workplace products, spaces and systems in Australia could be out of date because it does not reflect the increase in obesity.  

Anthropometric data are the measurements of the human body form used by designers to represent the human shape and size in designing the fittings and features of the workspace. The measurements give designers information about the end-user.

The Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) released the report, “Sizing Up Australia: How contemporary is the anthropometric data Australian designers use?” in February.
It was based on a research project that aimed to find the answers to two research questions:

  • What anthropometric data are currently being used to help create design solutions for Australian workers?
  • Do these data adequately reflect the requirements of the contemporary Australian workforce?

Commenting on the report, ASCC Chairman, Bill Scales, noted that the report “follows up on the previously released scoping paper on the implications of overweight and obesity for workplace health and safety and workers’ compensation." This initial research suggests that existing Australian anthropometric data may not adequately represent the current Australian workforce. He noted that Australia’s anthropometric dimensions have changed due to improved nutrition, increasing rates of obesity, aging and different migration patterns.

"Australian designers in this study told us they were concerned that they were using out of date or inaccurate data and they want access to data which accurately reflects the current body shape of the Australian workforce." More accurate Australian anthropometric data and tools will help our designers make workplaces safer," he said.

Source: Australian Safety and Compensation Council