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What Is Work Physiology?

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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Work physiology is a term associated with industrial engineering that is concerned how the human body copes with physical stress, work strain, and the working environment. Experts in this field study the physical toll that work takes on a person in order to minimize it. Work physiologists apply their understanding in evaluating and designing work spaces that reduce physical fatigue, eliminate occupational injuries, and increase overall productivity. They need to understand how the body performs under a variety of environmental conditions, the amount of rest it requires, and when it is able to work at peak levels.

Metabolism, respiration, and circulation are just a few of the body systems that physiologists study. They also take into account skeletal, muscular, and cardiovascular activity. Work physiologists are concerned with the metabolic cost of work and attempt to minimize it by making the work space as ergonomic as possible. A work physiology laboratory has all the equipment necessary to measure parameters like heart rate, oxygen consumption, and core temperature. This branch of physiology also studies the changes that result in the human body as a result of being exposed to single or multiple instances of work stress.

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Knowledge obtained from work physiology is used to design work spaces that suit a wide variety of people. For instance, a designer may design a kitchen counter module suited for a person above five feet five inches in height. Shorter people may find the counter space too high for them to conveniently cook or chop vegetables on. If the product is being designed for a custom-made order, it represents no problem. If the designer is creating this design for mass production or using it to set up multiple work spaces in a food-related factory, it will represent a huge problem because it will not be convenient to work on long-term; homemakers or workers may develop several shoulder or back-related health problems if they use this work space on a regular basis.

The goal of work physiology is to ensure that the worker performs his or her task safely in the most efficient manner possible within the work environment. Human beings come in all sizes and shapes, and this makes it challenging for work physiologists to design environments suited to every type. Normally, the environment isn't a controlled one — there may be loud noises, flying dust particles, and heat, for example, which the body has to deal with. This branch of physiology monitors the amount of energy people spend on their task and ensures that they aren't pushed beyond their physical capacity to work.

Some of the questions engineers, researchers, and scientists explore in work physiology include whether the work can be safely done by workers given the set of tools provided. They inquire into methodology, circadian rhythms, and the appropriate work-rest cycles. Safety under varying work conditions, such as working with heavy machinery, drops in temperatures, and varying oxygen levels are also studied. Jobs may also be ranked according to difficulty level based on an understanding of work physiology.

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