• How future-proof are the new NHS ‘Healthy Towns'?

    The following article recently appeared in Adjacent Government.

    When NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens announced the plans for 10 new ‘Healthy Towns’ in February 2016 he said, “The much-needed push to kick start affordable housing across England creates a golden opportunity for the NHS to help promote health and keep people independent. We want to see neighbourhoods and adaptable home designs that make it easier for older people to continue to live independently wherever possible.”

    While exact details of the proposed 10 new towns are yet to be revealed, there are a couple of obvious questions regarding the eventual form they will take, and especially regarding the issue of keeping people independent as they grow older.

    The worry is; that from the scant details so far revealed, aged living appears to be viewed only through the lens of elderly care. For example, within the proposed new developments at Whitehill and Bordon in Hampshire, 3,350 new homes will be built that include ‘care-ready homes’ designed to be ‘adaptable to the needs of people with long-term conditions with a nurse-led treatment centre, a pharmacy and integrated care hub’. This more modern approach to elderly care for those who need it is to be admired, especially when you consider the funding crisis currently weighing down on the elderly care sector. However, there appears to be a shortfall in thinking about the stages of life leading up to the point where care is needed – that grey area where people are becoming aged, but where they are still able to lead relatively independent lives.

    The reality is that in 10 years’ time the national demographic of the UK will be markedly different from what it is today, so to plan these new towns according to our current understanding of elderly living may mean we miss the opportunity to truly design in health, wellbeing and independence.

    We are a rapidly ageing society. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned in 2015 that within the next 15 years the UK will become ‘super-aged’, having more than 21% of the population aged 65 or older. At the same time, we are working later in life. According to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, more than a million people over the age of 65 are currently in work in the UK, and that figure is set to grow steadily and substantially.

    These are the changes that need to be factored in to any thinking about future urban development. In the case of the new Healthy Towns the planners will fail in their ambition to create effective environments if they do not recognise that although people are aging they still need to operate effectively and independently within the infrastructure, buildings, businesses, culture and even IT and communications systems around them.

    Research is already suggesting that whilst the next generation of old people will have stronger digital skills after a lifetime of living in the digital age, their propensity to use digital technologies may well drop as cognitive ability and dexterity decline. With so much day-to-day management of our lives now taking place through technology channels, this will present a big problem for both government and business.

    All elements of the new Healthy Towns need to be designed to accommodate these fundamental changes. From transport systems, to houses, retail, business and leisure, it is no longer good enough to think of society through a polarised lens which says you are either young, active and able; or old and in need of care. There is a significant stage in between.

    The key to developing strategies to address this challenge is a better understanding of people as they get older. Generally speaking, this is an area of knowledge that we are lacking as a society, probably because we have not had a pressing imperative until now to gather such information, and to map the human environment against it.

    As a priority we need to start measuring older people and compiling the data on older living that can inform how we should develop the buildings, infrastructure and systems around us. A first step would be the development of databases of anthropometry – the sizes and shapes of people – using new technology such as 3D scanners. A knowledge base of such data and other information (such as visual acuity, hearing, strength, dexterity and cognitive ability) would be invaluable in informing the design and planning of all environments. Techniques such as link analysis can then be used to map out how tasks are performed within the design proposals.

    It will be interesting to see the final form the new Healthy Towns take, but if they overlook the challenge of the stage of life BEFORE elderly care, they will have failed, and the cost will be counted down the line when rectification work becomes a necessity.


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  • New service: Applied Ethics

    We are pleased to announce the launch of a new service: applied ethics. Urgent ethical problems arise in areas such as the right of access to information, the protection of intellectual property and the right to privacy (which is threatened by social media) .

    To tackle these problems, we have developed a unique process for Ethical Risk Assessment. It is a simple, step-by-step technique in which challenges to ethical issues are first identified, then classified (using a computerised tool) and finally reduced to as low as practicable. The process can be applied to products, processes and work environments.

    We believe ethics will grow in importance in the future as people become conscious of the power over their lives held by organisations with access to their personal data.



  • Workplace health - Older Employees

    We are now a stakeholder for the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Workplace health - Older Employees Guidelines, which are due to be published in March 2016.

    If you'd like to get involved, visit the NICE website.



  • Inspirational Kate Allatt

    We really enjoyed Designability's annual lecture last week and the inspirational Kate Allatt.

    Support Designability here.



  • Project to scan 1400 military personnel in 3D starts immediately

    InterAction of Bath, a leading Bath-based consultancy specialising in ergonomics and human factors, has secured a major contract with the Ministry of Defence that will see the company embarking on a programme to measure and provide anthropometric data on 1400 male and female military personnel, including Royal Marines, Parachute Regiment, and Brigade of Gurkhas. The project will focus on the use of 3D scanning to measure the size and shape of the personnel.

    Speaking about the contract success, Dr Dave Usher of InterAction of Bath said “We are delighted to once again be working with the Ministry of Defence. We have vast experience of measuring and providing anthropometric data for a range of clients and sectors.

    “In a large scale project such as this, accuracy is critical in providing the most reliable and useful data. Our 3D scanner is state-of-the-art and the InterAction of Bath team has the knowledge and experience necessary to manage and deliver data that our clients can rely on.

    “The field of human factors is gaining recognition and its value cannot be overstated in ensuring environments and equipment are well designed and future-proof. From designing railway depots to kitchens and even nuclear power station control rooms, human factors is being increasingly employed in the early stages of a project. It is crucially important that designers consider the way people interact with the equipment or environments they are designing. And this can only be done through the use of accurate ‘people data’ and by observing tasks as they are carried out.”

    The Ministry of Defence project will start immediately and will take 18 months to complete.

    September 2015



  • Check your BMI

    Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. While it is not the most reliable measure of health, a BMI outside prescribed ranges might indicate a need to lose (or gain) weight and improve fitness.

    Check your BMI here.



  • Anthropometry

    Earlier this year we teamed up again with TNO, this time to measure the anthropometry of MoD personnel. We're now halfway through the data collection phase, having measured more than 300 participants, using both manual measurement techniques and our SizeStream scanner.

    We hope that the data will help ensure a better fit between service personnel and the equipment (and vehicles) they use.



  • Ergonomics Training

    Training has kept us very busy this year, particularly our two-day Human Factors Practitioner course, which we have delivered all around the country.

    Over the years, it has proven to be a very successful course, but in the new year we intend to make it even better. We have plans to change the syllabus to include more examples and more practical sesssions to help delegates get to grips with the range of tools and techniques we discuss.



  • Secular trends

    InterAction of Bath has teamed with TNO, the Dutch research organisation to investigate the impact of human growth trends on the accommodation of armoured vehicle crew and passengers.

    It is well known that human beings are larger than we once were, a secular trend almost entirely due to factors other than genetics, with nutrition being particularly important. A concerning aspect is the rise in obesity. The socio-demographic risk factors for obesity in the general population are well known, but this is not the case for military populations. One might expect that, with the emphasis on ‘fitness for duty’ and a predominantly young cohort, there would be a reduced risk of obesity in the Armed Forces. However, the fact that disadvantaged sections of the population are more likely to be recruited might decrease this effect, since obesity is more common in disadvantaged populations, especially in women.

    Studies of service personnel in the US report that the incidence of Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 kgm-2 or over more than doubled between 1995 and 2005. In the UK the risk of obesity appears to be highest in the Army and Royal Navy amongst older, white personnel of lower ranks. There are obvious implications for the health of Armed Services personnel and for the design of the many systems within which the operators must be integrated. In a detailed study, TNO and the USAF found the weight of pilots had increased considerably, which led to more stringent requirements for the F35/Lighting II ejection seat.

    It is axiomatic that the crew and passengers should be well accommodated in Armoured Vehicles (AVs). Too often, however, a mismatch has been found between the AV design and the actual characteristics of the target population. For this reason, the Armoured Platform Anthropometrics Research Programme (AVARP) aims to develop the policy tools, techniques and methodologies required better to understand the physical integration of crew and passengers in AVs and Dstl is commissioning a study to determine the extent and significance of through-life changes to the fit of Armoured Vehicle crew in the current and future vehicle fleet.

    The project is ongoing.


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  • How 3 Essential Patient Safety Steps Can Prevent Medical Errors

    Mistakes during surgical procedures are the most common medical error in 2013, and LifeWings, a team of international patient safety experts, offers three proven solutions to prevent these traumatic patient-harming events.

    See more




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