Volume 53, Number 10
Through the Rearview Mirror:
Ergonomics for Children
By Rani Lueder
Humans have always fussed over what's best for children. Yet until recently, the human factors/ergonomics discipline in the United States lagged in its emphasis on ergonomics for children. Perhaps the Greek roots in the etymology of the word ergonomics - "the study of man at work" - might have shaped our thinking. Perhaps it was our Society's historic beginnings in military matters. Whatever the reason, we have taken our time to fully incorporate into our field concepts of lifespan issues. In this article, I track the progress that has been made to date and call for continued focus in this critical area.
Focus on Children: Government Agencies, Meetings, and Standards
Important federal efforts to promote ergonomics for children in the United States have recently proceeded apace. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - including the great work by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on behalf of working youth (e.g., Waters & Garg, 2010) - have focused on these issues. Furthermore, a great deal of knowledge relevant to ergonomics for children has continued to stratify across a wide range of disciplines, including health care, optometry, education, architecture, facilities design, and urban planning.
The shift in focus in HF/E seems to have begun around the mid-1990s. By then, we had learned a great deal about the musculoskeletal risks of adults working at computers. Translating that knowledge into ergonomics for children seemed a logical next step. Given the dearth of research in the ergonomics literature specifically about children and computer use, early articles commonly offered guidance based on findings from studies of adult users. This was the impetus for me to begin to edit and write a book on the topic (Lueder & Rice, 2008), which is an attempt to rethink the research in light of the needs of children.
Recently our discipline has seen a sea change in its perspective on ergonomics for children. HF/E conferences commonly include a range of thought-provoking presentations, expanding the body of research in this important area.
A number of groups provide invaluable information for students, educators, and ergonomics practitioners worldwide. Interesting efforts have begun at the grass-roots level in schools. The late Cheryl Bennett organized the International Ergonomics Association's Ergonomics for Children in Educational Environments (ECEE) Technical Committee following a symposium at IEA 2000/HFES 2000 in San Diego (Bennett & Tien, 2003). Information about the ECEE is available at www.ergonomicsforchildren.org. Bennett's efforts have been continued by Karen Jacobs, who has also pushed us to rethink issues such as the weight of backpacks used by schoolchildren, to foster population-based ergonomics initiatives such as the backpack awareness initiatives in Sri Lanka and the United States, and to focus on macroergonomics issues. Ergonomics 4 Schools, a special interest group of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (formerly the Ergonomics Society), furthers the development of ergonomics information for children through high-school age. Information is available at www.ergonomics4schools.com and www.ergonomics.org.uk/sig/e4s.
There is now a stronger distinction between research relevant to children versus that relevant to adults (c.f. Straker et al., 2010). The European Guidelines for Prevention in Low Back Pain (Burton, 2005; Burton et al., 2004) incorporated evidence-based guidance for preventing back pain in children as well as the general population and provides guidance for accommodating children in a number of situations. The topic of ergonomics for children has also expanded to incorporate a broader range of issues, particularly those related to psychosocial and user interface considerations.
The pace of standards relevant to ergonomics for children has increased since the 1990s as well. Many are developed as voluntary standards by ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), sometimes with encouragement from the CPSC. Those voluntary standards pertain to children's clothing, nursery products or furniture, and child-resistant packaging. Pollock-Nelson (2006) provided an excellent recap of guidelines relevant to nursery products.
Important standards developed within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) include the ISO/IEC Guide 50:2002 Safety aspects - Guidelines for child safety, which was prepared by the Joint ISO/IEC Technical Advisory Group (JTAG) for child safety. Guide 50:2002 provides a framework for addressing potential sources of unintentional physical harm (hazards) to children from products, processes, or services, whether or not these were specifically intended for children. ISO stipulates that it should be included in standards in conjunction with the ISO/IEC Guide 51, Safety Aspects - Guidelines.
ISO TC 8124 Safety of toys provides safety guidance to minimize hazards when using toys during play or "reasonably foreseeable abuse." ISO technical committee ISO/TC 181, Safety of Toys, also updated the first two parts in the series: Part 1: Safety aspects related to mechanical and physical properties, in 2009, and Part 2: Flammability, in 2007. In 2009, the European Union published Toy Safety Directive Provisions on Warnings to guide manufacturers.
The largest set of ISO standards relevant to children is specific to road vehicles. Many of these concern child restraint systems, such as the new technical specification ISO/TS 22239: Road vehicles - Child seat presence and orientation detection system (CPOD), which aims to ensure system compatibility.
More Needs To Be Done
Challenges remain for HF/E professionals. We must continue to rethink assumptions about accommodating children, primarily by discarding the notion that findings relevant for adults apply to children, particularly with regard to visual ergonomics (Fostervold & Ankrum, 2008), physical development, and age-related musculoskeletal risk (Lueder, 2008). On close inspection, age-grading of children's products - particularly toys - is often inaccurate. Standards fail to address or mandate compliance with hazardous children's products. At the same time, we need to incorporate the vast and daunting literature that encompasses a broad range of disciplines. In the meantime, it is encouraging to look back through the rearview mirror to see how far we have come.
Burton, A. K. (2005). How to prevent low back pain. Best Practice & Research: Clinical Rheumatology, 19, 541-555.
Burton, A. K., Balaque, F., Cardon, G. Eriksen, H. R., Henrotin, Y., Lahad, A. Leclerc, A., Muller, G., & van der Beek, A. J. (2004). European guidelines for prevention in low back pain. On behalf of the COST B13 Working Group on Guidelines for Prevention in Low Back Pain. (See www.backpaineurope.org)
Bennett, C. L., & Tien, D. (2003, August). Ergonomics for children and educational environments - around the world. Proceedings of the International Ergonomics Association, in Seoul, South Korea. Zurich, Switzerland: International Ergonomics Association (www.osti.gov/bridge/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=15007237)
Fostervold, K. I. Ankrum, D. R. (2008). Visual ergonomics for children. In R. Lueder & V. Berg Rice (Eds.), Ergonomics for children: Designing products and places for toddlers to teens. London: Taylor & Francis.
Lueder, R. (2008). Physical development and age-related risks. In R. Lueder & V. Berg Rice (Eds.), Ergonomics for children: Designing products and places for toddlers to teens. London: Taylor & Francis.
Lueder, R., & Berg Rice, V. (2008). Ergonomics for children: Designing products and places for toddlers to teens. London: Taylor & Francis.
Pollock-Nelson, C. (2006). Hazards associated with common nursery products. In K. DeSafey Liller (Ed.), Injury prevention for children and adolescents: Research, practice, and advocacy (pp. 65-90). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
Straker, L., Maslen, B., Burgess-Limerick, R., Johnson, P., & Dennerlein, J. (2010). Evidence-based guidelines for the wise use of computers by children: Physical development guidelines. Ergonomics, 53, 458-477 (www.informaworld.com/10.1080/00140130903556344)
Waters, T. R., & Garg, A. (2010). Two-dimensional biomechanical model for estimating strength of youth and adolescents for manual material handling tasks. Applied Ergonomics, 41(1), 1-7.
Rani Lueder is principal of Humanics ErgoSystems, Inc., an ergonomics consulting firm she established in 1982. She specializes in occupational ergonomics, consumer product design, and ergonomics research and design of products and places for children, adults, elders, and people with disabilities.
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