Ergonomic Office Furniture for Obese Employees

Regular readers may recall previous posts on how the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population requires design consideration from seat car belts to hospital equipment. It is therefore no surprise that someone has now considered the need for redesigning office furniture to accommodate those with excess weight.

In a paper by Claire Gordon and Bruce Bradtmiller, published in the latest issue of WORK, the authors examine the potential impact of the increasing rates of obesity on office furniture design.

As the authors note, despite a 5-fold increase in the prevalence of obesity (and an even higher fold increase in severe obesity), little work has been done on ergonomic design of office (or other) furniture.

Based on data available from military personnel from1987-1988 and 2006-2007, the authors note that:

“Examining those two data sets in particular, mean values increased for anumber of important ergonomic dimensions in ap-proximately 20 years. For example, malebiacromial (shoulder) breadth increased 12.7 mm; male bideltoid (upper arm) breadth increased 8.1 mm,while male torso circumferences – all important in personal protective equipment – increased 40 mm or more”

“For many of the stature-related dimensions, the change was inconsequential for design. But for manyof the weight related dimensions, the changes weresubstantial. For example, male Forearm-Forearm Breadth increased by 33.9 mm (49.0 mm for females)and male Hip Breadth Sitting increased by 20.0 mm(39.9 mm for females).”

Although the paper does focus on issues perhaps more relevant for military personal, the implications are probably the same for regular office workers.

Given that the obesity epidemic is not going anywhere anytime soon and we will continue seeing an increasingly obese workforce, office furniture designers (and those who buy it) may wish to take note.

Miami, FL

ResearchBlogging.orgGordon CC, & Bradtmiller B (2012). Anthropometric change: implications for office ergonomics. Work (Reading, Mass.), 41, 4606-11 PMID: 22317429