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Personalized Ergonomic Solutions for Diverse Workers

The American worker looks different today than he or she did a decade or two ago. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are working longer and, according to several sources, the average American is also getting larger.

These two rising trends within the American population parallel those within the workforce, driving employers to change the way they train and retain their employees. While there are many options that address the safety and productivity of every worker regardless of shape or size, the experts at The Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute (SRI) know the solution: ergonomics.

Costs of the Obese Worker

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than one-third of Americans, 78.6 million, are obese. This goes beyond overweight citizens, or those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Obese people have a BMI of 30 or higher and contribute to an estimated $147 billion in U.S. medical costs [1].

Indeed, according to the results from the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System, the obese worker has a disposition for a plethora of medical problems including lower back pain, knee, hip, ankle, wrists, and shoulder pain [2]. While size does not take away from the contributions an obese worker can make, this inherent physical risk may be unsettling for the employer in a manual or hands-on field.

An Aging Workforce

Similar to the obese worker, the aging worker is also a higher medical risk demographic. In 2010, almost 20% of the American workforce was comprised of those aged 55 and older [3]. Although the older employee has several benefits he or she brings to the table, including a vast work experience that can contribute to excellent problem solving skills, the older worker tends to be stiffer and has a slower reaction time [4].

In fact, if an older worker is injured, the median days away from work is 14 days, which is higher than every other aged worker. Likewise, older workers have the highest average medical costs. These inherent limits should be considered by an employer when training the older worker, especially as this person’s fatality rate per injury is severely higher than the younger employee [5].

Customizable Ergo Support for the Individual

The Ohio State SRI team has personalized measurement and modeling capabilities to support businesses with aging and/or obese workers. With our biomechanical modeling platform, we are capable of focusing on the individual despite age or size. Our suite of measurement technologies gather quantitative measurements, which can then be used to create personalized solutions that apply to a business’s entire population, not just the median worker.

Our personalized biomechanical modeling platform leverages an assortment of measurement technologies that allow us to assess the risks associated with a specific worker population or job. Available measuring capabilities include:

  • Lumbar motion monitor—A device developed and patented in the SRI's labs that measures the motion of a person's back while they perform their job. Measured motion characteristics are then compared to a vast database to determine the level of risk the person is being exposed to while performing that job.
  • Optical motion capture—used to track how people move with sub-millimeter accuracy
  • Electromyography – used to quantify muscle forces and fatigue
  • Force transduction –used to understand the external loads that an individual is exposed to, including weight distribution and balance
  • Patient imaging—used to understand a patient’s unique internal geometry
  • Near-Infrared Spectroscopy—used to detect changes in muscle oxygenation that is related to muscle fatigue
  • Electroencephalography – used to quantify alertness, drowsiness, and cognitive workload

For more information on SRI’s precise human measurement tools, read more here.

Ergonomics: the Solution for every Worker

The benefits of ergonomics extend beyond retaining valuable employees. With a workforce as diverse as we’re currently seeing, the correct ergonomic training and risk prevention can keep your people, regardless of age or size, safe and working for years to come.

[1] Center for Disease Control. September 9, 2014.

[2] From “Obesity and Workers’ Compensation” by Truls Ostbyc, MD, PHD; John M. Dement, PhD; Katrina M. Krause, MA, 2007, Arch Intern Med, Vol 167, p.766-773. Copyright 2007

[3] Vendramin, Patricia and Valenduc, Gérard, Occupations and Ageing at Work - An Analysis of the Findings of the Fifth European Working Conditions Survey (October 30, 2012). ETUI Working Paper 2012.09. Available at SSRN: or

[4] From “Aging Workers & Ergonomics” by Robert R. Fox, George E. Brogmus, and Wayne S. Maynard, January 2015, Professional Safety, p. 33-41.

[5] From “Aging Workers & Ergonomics” by Robert R. Fox, George E. Brogmus, and Wayne S. Maynard, January 2015, Professional Safety, p. 33-41.