Ergonomics done right.®
December 13th, 2016

Designing for Global Populations

We live in a time when access to the world is at our fingertips. We can get on a plane and be on a different continent later that day. We can do an internet search to find recipes local to countries we’ve never been to. We can call someone located on the opposite side of the globe and speak as if we were sitting next to her.santa_hat_earth Technology is amazing.

Over the past few decades, globalization has made the sharing of ideas, cultures, and traditions more routine, especially at this time of year. It’s important to remember though, that as much as we are all alike, there are also some important differences when designing work for global populations. Below are some things to keep in mind. And in the holiday spirit, I’ve included a few traditions from countries around the world.

Cultural norms. If you visit the United Kingdom, you’ll find that, to turn some light switches on, you must flip the switch down. Here in the United States, we do just the opposite. The expectations of what will happen when you flip a switch may vary, depending on local conventions. So if you have a machine or workstation equipped with an on/off switch, for example, clearly label it and train all employees on its function.

In Scotland, the new-year holiday of Hogmanay is thought to date back to the days of the Vikings. It includes the tradition of “first-footing”—the first foot into the house on the first day of the new year can bring good luck for the coming year.

Anthropometrics. Are you in a global company with sites in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, China, and Poland? All of those countries have different anthropometric measurements for their populations and, as such, should have workstations with different height and reach dimensions. We’ve had clients with sites in Malaysia order machines from Germany, only to find that all of the machines are too tall for the Malaysian population. Design work environments and workstations for the anthropometry of your particular population. Keep in mind that the machine you design for your site in Brazil may not be appropriate for your site in France.

Every December 7, Guatemalans celebrate La Quema del Diablo (“The Burning of the Devil”). The tradition includes cleaning out their houses and making piles of garbage, which they set on fire. This helps them get rid of old things from the past year and begin the Christmas season afresh.

Language. When rolling out a global ergonomics process, it’s important to make sure that the information translates into all of the languages used at your company sites. The risk assessment tools you’re using should also be available in multiple languages (or at least have pictures and numbers to help explain when risk is present).

The Spring Festival, celebrated in January in China and other Asian countries, is a centuries-old tradition of bringing in the new lunar year. Activities include lighting paper lanterns and gifting money in red envelopes. People are hoping to kick off the new year with luck, happiness, and longevity.

And as you gather with your friends and family this holiday season, I feel that W. C. Jones said it best: “The joy of brightening other lives, bearing others’ burdens, easing others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays.”