Size Matters

The first cubicle, Robert Propst’s Action Office for Herman Miller, was introduced in 1968. Ever since, workstations have been shrinking while the employees that occupy them have swelled. Women between the ages of 20 and 74 gained an average of 24 pounds between 1960 and 2002, after which their weight leveled off. Adult men have had a more dramatic climb, packing on 28 pounds (as illustrated here). We haven’t sized ourselves out of cubicles just yet, but task chairs are straining to keep up. As BIFMA gets ready to release its new G1 guide-lines, with revised recommendations for furniture dimensions, ergonomists are asking themselves whether a single chair can still reasonably accommodate most people. (A man in the 5th percentile has hips just 13 inches wide, while a woman in the 95th registers closer to 20 inches.) Our work spaces, it appears, are bursting at the seams.

Based on information from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), National Health Statistics Reports (NHSR), National Health Examination Survey (NHES), Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel (ANSUR), National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource (CAESAR), and Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) G1 guidelines, compiled with assistance from Dr. Teresa Bellingar, senior corporate ergonomist for Haworth, and Randy Carter, principal engineer of codes & approvals for Steelcase.

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