Ergonomics

Ergonomics

Application of ergonomics to anatomical problems

Anatomy is about the structure of the body.

Many jobs are better done by workers of a particular shape and size. The motor car is an obvious example; the seating and controls are designed to suit the majority of the driving population. The same approach should be used in the design of most controls. Whilst many design engineers use their general knowledge and experience for positioning controls etc., there are statistical data used by ergonomists that give the dimensions of most parts of the body relating to percentages of the population. Using these data, the carmakers know fairly accurately the number of people who will not fit comfortably in their cars and can assess the cost of meeting their needs against the amount of lost sales.

Most workplace design involves positioning controls but what may be comfortable for a short thickset individual is likely to be awkward for someone tall and slim. Additionally, the reading of poorly positioned instruments may require excessive body movement.

Adjustment of the workplace can solve many problems; the typist's chair with armrests for some work is an inexpensive and robust solution to many seating problems arising from differences in anatomical dimensions. The design of many everyday things, e.g. stairs, doorknobs, wheelbarrows, manholes etc., are all based on human dimensions.

People in Western countries in general are more obese than 50 years ago; the trend is likely to continue whilst the better-fed children of the post war years replace the older generation.

The principal body dimensions of women are similar to those of many of the smaller men, with the difficulty of shorter arms and legs; although for some tasks the female bosom causes minor problems in equipment and workplace design both because of position and size, and because of its sensitivity.

Nowadays there are computer three-dimensional simulations of the person at the workplace that enable the ergonomist to project onto the computer screen how operators, with ranges of given body dimensions, would fit into a new workplace and use new equipment.

The overall differences in body dimensions in people are so great that, like the car designer, normally only a proportion of people will be suited in any particular situation. To increase the suitability of the workplace or equipment, for a wider range of people, costs money, but this can be offset against the greater ease of filling that job.

Many health and safety requirements relate to human anatomy; they are difficult to formulate for all shapes and sizes of worker.

Next | Ergonomics: physiological problems