From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Finnish Experts Concerned with Growing Mismatch Between Their Population and the Design of Their Physical World

Finns have outgrown their environment, an expert observed recently in Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, making them less able to cope in today’s society. A second expert quoted in the same newspaper article suggests that the narrow parameters used in design standards compound the problem as they do not accommodate the full range of sizes and other physical variations in the population. 

Dr. Markku Heliövaara of the National Public Health Institute told the newspaper that buildings, furniture, vehicles, tools and clothes are no longer big enough. And Finns will continue to get bigger, Dr. Heliövaara said, adding that even the elderly will be taller and fatter.

Building Information Foundation (RTS) Director General Matti Rautiola told the newspaper that the increase in height has been taken into account in residential development, but not sufficiently. “For example, the kitchen counters are presently at a height of 85-90 centimeters (2.78 – 2.9 feet), which can be too high for many women and too low for some men.”

When equipment and fixtures in the workplace do not fit, users run the risk of ergonomics-related health problems and injuries.  Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are high on the list.

“In Finland the environment has been designed as static and standardized”, said Nina Nevala, head of the Ergonomics and Usability team at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, “It does not bend or adapt to the size of a person.”  She noted that it is standardized to fit a young, mid-sized, right-handed, physically-fit person “with perfect ability to move and impeccable hearing, eyesight and linguistic skills.”

Nevala points out that in industrial production, items are designed in such a way that they fit 90 percent of the population. This means that women’s height should be between 156 and 176 centimeters (5.1 – 5.7 feet) and men’s between 169 and 189 centimeters (5.54 – 6.2 feet), but the number of Finns falling outside these measurements is on the rise.

The article notes that the design doesn’t take into account people with impairments in their vision, hearing or mobility. And in addition to size and weight variations, some 10 percent of Finns are left-handed. Often, left-handedness puts items out of their reach and makes tools difficult to use effectively.

The ergonomist notes that only the newest schools are supplied with adjustable furniture in different sizes to reflect variations in students’ size and shape. “It is everyone’s basic right to be able to function in one’s surroundings.”

According to the article, there is wide agreement on the solution – more room for adjustment – but RTS chief Rautiola cautions that few developers are ready for the inevitable additional expenses.

Nevala argues that if the adjustment reserve became a standard, this would help lower the cost.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat