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Introduction; Physical Strength Assessment In Ergonomics
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  • Description:
    Humankind's interest in measurement of human physical strength probably dates to the first humans. At that time, life was truly a struggle in which the fittest survived. To a great extent, fittest meant strongest. Interestingly, current interest in human physical strength in the workplace stems from 1970-1980s vintage research demonstrating that persons with adequate physical strength are less likely to be injured on physically demanding jobs. Survival in many modem workplaces may still be a case of survival of the strongest. There is, however, a flip side to this issue - that persons with limited strength are more likely to be injured on "hard" jobs. To address this problem, we can apply what we know about physical strength to job design. "Hard" jobs can be redesigned to be within the physical strength capability of most people. Since physical strength is important to these jobs, we must find ways to quantify it through testing. This publication concerns human physical strength testing. Its purpose is not to recommend any particular type of testing, but rather to describe the types of testing available and their uses. It is up to each individual user of strength testing to decide which testing technique is most appropriate for his or her particular application. This booklet discusses four types of strength testing: isometric, isoinertial, psychophysical, and isokinetic. Human Strength Before describing the different types of strength measurement, we must define the term "strength" and explain the concept of strength measurement. Strength is defined as the capacity to produce force or torque with voluntary muscle contraction. Maximum strength is defined as the capacity to produce force or torque with a maximum voluntary muscle contraction.(1,2) These definitions include some key words that must be explained. A voluntary muscle contraction is "voluntary." When a person's physical strength is measured, only the effort the person willingly puts forth at the time is measured. Thus, when we test a person's "maximum strength," we are not measuring his or her actual maximum, but some lesser value representing what he or she is comfortable expressing at the time with the existing equipment and environmental conditions. Interestingly, when researchers startled persons being tested (e.g., by setting off a starter's pistol behind them), they have found significant increases in measured strength.(3) It has been hypothesized that the lower strength displayed during normal testing provides a margin of safety against overloading and damaging muscle tissue. The test equipment and the tested person's familiarity with the process also influence the "voluntary" strength output. The interface between the tested person and the test equipment is particularly important. A poorly designed interface induces localized tissue pressures that vary from uncomfortable to painful. In this situation, testers are measuring voluntary discomfort tolerance - not strength. It is important for strength researchers to keep the "voluntary" nature of their data in mind when they are designing their equipment and protocols.

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