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Obesity is complicating ergonomics


As more workers become obese or overweight they are taking on a range of new body shapes that are complicating the ability of ergonomics to improve workplace safety.

I heard that from Vicki Missar, an ergonomics expert and associate director for Aon Risk Solutions. She spoke on the topic at the American Society of Safety Engineers' annual conference recently held in Denver.

Only 34% of the workforce is at a weight considered normal, meaning the other 66% are not, Ms. Missar said.

And as individuals grow heavier the weight is accumulating in different parts of their bodies. Some people accumulate more fat in the abdomen and breasts while others gain it in their legs and still others in their arms and faces.

Yet many ergonomic designs are still being developed for workers of a more uniform shape, Ms. Missar said. Ergonomic design practices need to catch up.

Here are some interesting facts reflecting how our bodies are changing as people grow larger: Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16 dress and had a 23-ince waist. Today, a size 16 dress is made for women with 36-inch waists.

In the 1950s, a professional offensive lineman weighed 234 pounds on average. Today they weigh 310 pounds on average.

Thanks to Ms. Missar for providing those facts.

For anyone interested in how obesity is impacting workers compensation claims and what to do about it please look at Business Insurance's Solution Arc on the topic. The Arc is a collection of stories on obesity's impact on claims and how to improve claims outcomes. The stories are available here.