Costs rise for employers as American workers grow in circumference. A report
released by the California Department of Health Services concludes that obesity
costs the state $21 billion annually, and that employers bear $16 billion of that
amount in health insurance, worker compensation claims and lost productivity. No
estimate is available for the national cost, but California’s experience suggests that
obesity is a staggering burden on American businesses. Fortunately, ergonomic
solutions cost far less for employers than obesity.
The increasing girth of workers is creating a newly important demographic for
ergonomists. It is easy to see why: the workplace is an ill-fitting environment for the
obese. Standard chairs and workspaces are too small, and the mismatch can trigger
musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and reduce productivity.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs, often related to workplace
ergonomic concerns, account for 33 percent of workplace injuries and illnesses that
result in lost days. The Bureau reports that MSDs are common among U.S. workers,
and also result in longer periods away from the job than traumatic injuries.
Using principles designed specifically for the target demographic, ergonomists work
with companies to increase human performance and reduce the risk of MSDs. It’s a
matter of fitting the workplace to the population.
It sounds easy, but isn’t. Human size, skills, and mental and physical capabilities
differ widely, even within a particular demographic. There is a word