Most people have heard of ergonomics and think it is something to do with seating or with the design of car controls and instruments. It is...but it is much more! Ergonomics is the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of objects, systems and environment for human use. Ergonomics comes into everything which involves people. Work systems, sports and leisure, health and safety should all embody ergonomics principles if well designed.
There is significant scope for organisations to improve efficiency, health and safety and employee satisfaction by applying ergonomics in the working environment. Ergonomically designed workplaces, equipment and jobs aim to modify the environment to meet people’s needs. There are many such needs within the office environment.
It is 23 years since the Health and Safety - Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations came into force.There are still considerable number of organisations who are either unaware of the existence of these regulations or choose to ignore them. Most organisations partly comply with these regulations by only undertaking very minimal risk assessments, which in their view show that everything is acceptable. Small proportion of organisations fully complies and exceeds the requirements of these regulations and consequently reaps the benefits of more productive healthier and happier workforce.
The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) guidance document on the Display Screen Equipment Regulations state that standards will provide specifications for new equipment, they may also be used as a yardstick for assessing the suitability of existing installations. The guidance notes go further by stating that workstations, which comply with the appropriate standards cited in the guidance, would meet, and in most cases exceed the relevant requirements of the Display Screen Regulations.
The ergonomics principle used in determining the height of fixed height desking is to allow the largest users in the intended user group sit at the desk without the top of their thighs hitting the underside of the desk. In other words, fixed height desks are designed for the tall people and the majority of people would need height adjustable chair and shorter users would also need a footrest.
Fixed height office desks have been around since the conception of offices. Work practices, types of workers, our knowledge on ergonomics, and health & safety requirements have been changing continuously yet we still use fixed height desks. Our love affair with the fixed height desk goes on whilst in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Holland and to some extent Germany employers on the advice of Ergonomists have been specifying height adjustable desking for their employees.
The Furniture Design Toolkit (FDT), created by the Furniture Industry Research Association, aims to provide designers with the tools needed to incorporate ergonomics, user trials Standards and legislation into the design process. The Toolkit is the only design resource to contain this highly valuable information, provided by industry experts.
The Furniture Design Toolkit for domestic furniture, created by the Furniture Industry Research Association aims to provide designers with the tools needed to incorporate ergonomics, user trials, standards and legislation into the design process.
The key areas of focus are; bedroom furniture, lounge/dining furniture and home office furniture.
Currently, domestic furniture does not always consider the needs of users in terms of ergonomics and overall well-being. Here are a few examples of ways domestic furniture design could incorporate ergonomics:
The rapid spread of laptop computers ran ahead of the scientific research into the health and safety aspects of their use. However, Leon Straker at Curtin University in Australia cites a recent study which found that 60% of laptop users reported musculoskeletal discomfort.
FIRA has produced a call to action to improve furniture used in educational institutions. Safe seats of learning: How good school furniture can make a difference declares that a lot of furniture currently used in schools and colleges is not flexible, is bad for users' health [incidence of recurrent back pain in 10-16 year olds is alarmingly high] and is not suitable for use. The report also suggests the factors which drive the purchase of educational furniture are often the cost and the outdated idea that 'one size fits all'.