The ergonomics and design of an inclusive best-fit solution to workbenches
In a time when the developed world, is trying to reduce the human and economic costs of musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs), any contribution to such an endeavour would be welcome. These economic costs are estimated to be in the tens of billions of Euro in the EU countries and similarly in the USA, the cost in human pain has not been measured. It may surprise many that in spite of all the advancements in science and technology, that two generations of people, who are very significantly taller than the people of a century ago, are still working in industry and in education at benches, which have not changed, either in height or design in centuries. Some, like wheelchair users do not have the opportunity to work at a bench at all. At the outset this research project, had the primary objective of determining an ergonomic best-fit, for a broad range of users of workbenches. These included the young school going population (12-13 year olds), the senior students (16 plus years old), adults, and a cohort of surrogate wheelchair users. The research also endeavoured to determine if adolescents, who were of the same stature as adults, had the same workbench ergonomics requirements. The secondary objective, which was completely dependant on the first, was to design a bench, which would suit the ergonomic requirements of this diverse group. The research has identified the best-fit workbench heights for the total cohort, while recognising the individual differences in relation to bench height ergonomics, for each of the sub-groups tested. The findings of the research have shown, that using surrogate wheelchair users to determine ergonomic data for this type of activity is fully justified. In combining the raw data for a similar number of wheelchair users, a best-fit bench height has been confirmed at 100 mm above knee height. There are no significant differences between the ergonomic requirements for males and females at workbenches. Body part discomfort has been reduced significantly, for the wheelchair users, at the identified height and endurance has been extended. Importantly the career options for wheelchair users have been extended, empowering them to make broader career choices. The outcomes of the research relating to three groups making up the able-bodied cohort have shown that an ergonomic best-fits possible, which suits the needs of this diverse group. A height of 150 mm under elbow height has been identified as best-fit, and this reduces the discomfort considerably while extending endurance. Robust working heights have been identified, but the female working heights at workbenches, are not as robust as for the males. For all groups it has been shown that bench height has a significant effect on body part discomfort and endurance, and while there were differences in efficiency, which were not quite significant, it is suggested that working in an ergonomically compromising position must, in the long term, in addition to increasing the risk of MSDs, likely also influence productivity, and quality of work. An inclusive test-workbench has been designed and built which satisfies the ergonomic needs of the diverse user group described above.