First- People Are Different
AnthropometricsIf you take a look around your office or around the street you walk down, if becomes obvious that not everyone is the same shape and size. Because of this, clothing comes in different sizes and styles. The garment maker seems to try to cater to everyone. Variety sometimes seems endless.
In looking at workplace or tool design however, there is not a much variety of design. The workplace, tools, and even homes are generally designed for function, not for people. Work heights (including kitchen counters) are built to the average workbench height for a World War II soldier. These are often a little low for the tall men of today and remain a little high for most women.
Much to my surprise, I found out that standard desk height has actually lowered in the past year to 28.5 inches. For many women this is a much better height than the previous 29.5 inches. For men it may be a little low. Generally speaking however, with modern equipment it is easier to raise height than to lower it. A simple monitor riser or laptop stand will often do the trick with the keyboard placed on the desktop.
AgingAging affects our bodies in many ways. Once we pass 30 our vision begins to change and soon we need bifocals. Bifocal or invisalign glasses or contacts require a change in our relationship to what we see. They require a downward glance or upward neck angle to focus closer than approximately 5 feet.
Only a portion of the lens is designed to focus at the distance we need to see while using tools (close to medium)or moving through space(distance). Even if we do not need glasses, there is a significant change toward downward gaze as we age although I could not find an age range where this begins. In addition there is a decrease in pupil size so that more light is required. As well, ability to distinguish color declines. Our ability to change focal distance lessens. This may lead to fuzzy images or even double vision.
Work posture adapts to visual needs.
In order to use the computer effectively, you need to clearly see what you are entering – especially if you are entering code or building a webpage. In order to hit the nail reliably, you need to easily see the head of the nail.
To compensate, we change our work postures. Sitting generally becomes more reclined with the head carried more forward. Standing, our shoulders tend to curve forward and arms turn inward.
Added to these changes our muscle bulk lessens.
Other Individual DifferencesOther differences that affect work may be handedness, strength, ability to hear, impaired vision, and many other issues that can be reasonably addressed when thought is put into the ergonomics of the workplace or home.
Do these Difference Matter?Most of us work at one task long enough during a day that it biases our body toward specific postures. The placement and design of work-stations and work tools affect us because we use them regularly for extended periods. If the light isn't bright enough we will tend to lean forward to see what we need to see. Over time this creates shoulder, neck, and eye strain. These conditions lead us into even more odd postures as we try to decrease pain and strain.
You may find that if you carry a heavy briefcase back and forth from your car every day using the same hand (or shoulder), that when you are doing other things in daily life, you tend to hold that shoulder higher than the other. If so, this affects your trunk and hip angle, and your gait. It can also lead to a fairly constant torque or twist in your spine. Women often get this result if they carry handbags. Others may get a similar effect from slinging a backpack over one shoulder. The trick is to change which arm you use to bear the load.
And yes, making changes to the tool or workstation design to fit the needs of the individual can make a significant difference in comfort and productivity. It helps the worker and helps the bottom line.
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