Inclusive Design in the Workplace: Creating Safe & Efficient Spaces for All
Blog by: Alexa Shelley, Associate Ergonomist and Customer Success Manager
Today, workplace diversity and inclusivity are not just ideals but imperatives, this article delves deep into the philosophy of creating spaces that are not just efficient but empathetic, accommodating the vast spectrum of human diversity. By unraveling the intricate balance between ergonomic design and anthropometric accommodations, we embark on a journey that redefines the industrial workspace. From the careful crafting of tools and equipment to the strategic layout of workstations, every aspect is scrutinized through the lens of inclusivity. This guide illuminates how technology, especially multipoint wearable sensors, serves as a key player in this transformative process, offering insights that go beyond conventional methodologies.
Understanding Inclusive Design
Inclusive design is an approach that works to create environments, processes, and systems that consider the diverse needs of all workers, ensuring accessibility and safe usability for everyone. This design philosophy goes beyond addressing the needs of a specific demographic, aiming to make the workplace easily accessible, understood, and usable by all workers.
Achieving Inclusive Design
In the industrial workplace, inclusive design is applied by tailoring environments, tools, and processes to accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce. This involves considering a range of factors such as physical abilities, height, and strength among others. Here’s how inclusive design is typically applied in the industrial setting:
- Tool and Equipment Design: Inclusive design ensures that tools and equipment are designed to accommodate a variety of physical abilities. This includes considering factors like grip size, weight, and control mechanisms to make tools accessible to workers of different strength levels and physical conditions.
- Workspace Layout: An inclusively designed workspace involves optimizing the arrangement of workstations, machinery, and storage areas to accommodate differing reach capabilities while also bearing in mind process efficiency.
- Anthropometric Considerations: Designing workstations and tools based on anthropometric measurements while also allowing for adjustability, ensures that they accommodate workers across a spectrum of physical characteristics.
By incorporating inclusive design principles, industrial workplaces can create a safer and more productive environment for all workers, regardless of their individual characteristics and abilities. This not only enhances accessibility but also contributes to a more positive and inclusive organizational culture.
The Role of Anthropometric Accommodations
One of the key aspects of inclusive design is understanding and accommodating the anthropometric differences among workers. Anthropometrics involves the measurement of the human body, and leveraging these measurements is crucial when designing workstations. A common misconception that leads to increased risk of injury is that when designing for the “average” worker, the majority of the population is covered. However, when designing for the 50th percentile worker you are only accommodating a small portion of users. When designing, it is important to consider who the accommodation must be made for, while also designing in adjustability to enable customization that accommodates both the 5th percentile female and the 95th percentile male.
Designing for Varied Reaches
When designing a workstation, one aim is to keep the task within the worker’s natural arm reach distances; close to the body, in order to minimize the required reach. When a work process requires a reach, the design should accommodate the 5th percentile female. How far can this worker reach forward while seated? To the left or right? What about while standing? Keep in mind that it is also important to maintain a neutral posture for all other joints as well.
Next, consider a workstation that requires picking a part from a large bin. The height of the bottom of the bin, as well as the height of the bin walls need to be designed in a way that protects workers. The bottom of the bin should be high enough off the ground so that the 95th percentile male is protected from spinal flexion. In the same consideration, the wall height of the bin must be designed to accommodate the 5th percentile female. A bin with one open side, or sides with sliding doors allows for easy side loading by all workers.
Work Surface Heights
Improper workstation height is a large contributor to pain and discomfort in the workplace. Designing for “average” height is not good enough. Designing for “average” height accommodates few workers, does not optimize specific work conditions, and may be causing awkward postures making workers more susceptible to injury.
In general, the work surface should be 5-10 cm below the worker elbow height. Designers should design to accommodate the 95th percentile male while simultaneously providing adjustability for the 5th percentile female; adjustable stools or platforms can work to raise the worker so that regardless of their height, the workstation is optimal for them.
The nature of the work may require a specific workstation height to optimize force and precision. For example, when precise work is required, the workstation should be raised 5-10 cm above the elbow, with padding provided for the elbows to rest on. Additionally, when more forceful work is required, the workstation height should fall 10-15 cm below the elbow. Adjustable options are key to ensuring all workers can access the workstation appropriately.
Lifting and Clearances
Consider the flow of work in your workplace, are there any areas that one would need to duck under when moving throughout their day? Vertical clearances should be designed with the height of the 95th percentile male in mind. Doorways, ducting, equipment, shelving should all be designed so that the 95th percentile male can freely walk below.
Does your workplace require lifting or lowering of any kind? If so, please consider both the 5th percentile female and the 95th percentile male when designing these systems. When lifting and lowering is required, the lowest point of the lift or lower must be at a height that accommodates the 95th percentile male, this worker should be able to grab or place the object without significant spinal flexion. Conversely, the highest point of the lift or lower must accommodate the 5th percentile female, this worker should be able to grab or place the object without significant vertical reach.
Technology as a Catalyst: Multi-point Wearable Sensors
As designers strive for inclusive design, technology emerges as a powerful ally. Multi-point wearable sensors have become instrumental in collecting and analyzing data to identify potential musculoskeletal injury risks within a workplace. These sensors offer an efficient and scalable solution for understanding where anthropometric accommodations are necessary.
The utilization of wearable technology not only provides a clear, objective understanding of worker movements but also sheds light on intricate risk insights that were previously challenging to discern.
By amassing data at scale, wearable sensors empower organizations to identify outliers within their workforce, unveiling critical information about potential ergonomic challenges. For instance, analysis of a dataset related to order pickers may unveil a subset of workers facing heightened low back risk due to excessive flexion. Further scrutiny could reveal that taller workers tasked with picking orders from lower shelves are disproportionately susceptible to such risks.
Similarly, data collection from workers engaged in tasks involving the vertical push of materials into machines may highlight elevated shoulder risks for specific workers. This insight can prompt a deeper investigation, potentially uncovering that shorter workers bear a higher risk during tasks requiring a vertical push component.
Through the systematic collection and analysis of data across the entire workgroup, organizations gain the ability to swiftly pinpoint areas of heightened risk and recognize the need for anthropometric accommodations. For instance, in response to the identified risk for taller workers, adjustments such as raising the lower parts off the ground can be implemented to mitigate potential risks. Alternatively, flexible solutions, such as providing stools for workers, can be introduced to limit their reach and ensure a safer working environment.
The integration of multi-point wearable sensors not only facilitates the identification of potential ergonomic challenges but also enables organizations to proactively address these issues through targeted anthropometric accommodations. Additionally, multi-point wearable sensors can be used to directly validate the design and adjustability of a workstation, ensuring inclusivity and holistic risk mitigation across the variable worker population. This data-driven approach ensures a more comprehensive understanding of workplace dynamics, fostering a culture of safety and well-being for workers of diverse anthropometric profiles.
In the pursuit of crafting workspaces that prioritize the well-being and inclusivity of all workers, the integration of multi-point wearable sensors emerges as a transformative tool. These technological marvels not only provide an objective lens into the intricacies of worker movements but also uncover nuanced risk insights that were previously elusive. By amassing and analyzing data at scale, organizations gain the ability to pinpoint outliers within their workforce, identifying potential ergonomic challenges that demand anthropometric accommodations. Whether it’s recognizing heightened low back risks for certain order pickers or uncovering elevated shoulder risks during specific tasks, wearable sensors empower proactive interventions. This data-driven approach ensures that workspaces are not designed for the mythical “average” worker but instead cater to the diverse anthropometric profiles of all workers.
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