Comfort is a major factor of ergonomics and it influences our everyday lives more than we think. Many of the choices we make, from the clothes we wear, to the furniture in our homes, to the way we perform a task are driven by the need for optimal comfort.
Ergonomics is the scientific discipline of understanding the interactions between humans and other elements of a system in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. Through the understanding of ergonomics and the role it plays and applying this in the workplace, we are able to make decisions that benefit our safety, and our ability to live and work more comfortably and productively.
At RPB, creating respiratory protection that advances operator safety and increases their productivity is a key driver in our design process. We carry out extensive research and seek industry insight from our end users to develop new technology, ensuring the products we create are comfortable through ergonomic design. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be designed to give adequate protection while reducing the risks in hazardous environments.
The role of ergonomics in design
The role of weight distribution in respirator headtops is important, as this is a determining factor that influences comfort. We assume that headtops that are lightweight are going to be more comfortable, however making them lightweight can jeopardize the distribution of the weight. For example, a lightweight head top with 4 point-head suspension and no padding may weigh less but will cause more strains on the user over the course of the day due to the full weight of the helmet falling on fewer pressure points. Headtops that have an 8-point head harness or full padding will weigh more but will ultimately be more comfortable as the weight is spread more evenly across your head reducing the pressure points and making it feel lighter.
When we wear clothing, other than aesthetics and brand choice, we choose this based on sizing. It is important to take this approach with respiratory protection too. Not everyone is the same size, therefore having the ability to tighten a headtop, or have thicker padding ensures the fit can be customized, making the respirator move with the user’s head. This increases comfort and reduces strains as the user is not unconsciously placing their head in an unnatural position to combat the movement of their respirator.
Movement, posture, and sensory perception are also important elements to consider when selecting and using PPE and respiratory protection. If these are negatively impacted, then this can make a task harder to complete, increase the risk of injury and increase the likelihood the protection will not be worn.
These principles of ergonomics for headtops can also be applied to powered air purifier respirators (PAPR). Designs that contour to the user helps to evenly distribute and balance the weight. This stops the unit pulling away from the body, eliminating the need for the user to strain their back during a day trying to compensate for the weight that is being pulled down and away from their body. Having a PAPR that works with the user through an ergonomic design reduces these negative impacts on movement and posture.
When purchasing PPE, it’s important to consider the work you are going to be doing when using it. Think about how this will practically work in your role, the duration of time you will wear it each day and the problem areas you currently face that need to be improved.
Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors. (2020). What is ergonomics? Retrieved from Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors: https://www.ergonomics.org.uk/Public/Resources/What_is_Ergonomics_.aspx
Graveling, R. (2013, April 10). The ergonomics of personal protective equipment. Retrieved from Croner-i Limited: https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/ergonomics-personal-protective-equipment
HFESNZ. (2020). About Human Factors and Ergonomics. Retrieved from Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of New Zealand: https://www.hfesnz.org.nz/about-us/about-human-factors-and-ergonomics/
IEA. (2020). What is Ergonomics? Retrieved from International Ergonomics Association: https://iea.cc/what-is-ergonomics/