Physical activity – a different kind of hazard. What’s the right amount of work?

Physical activity is unlike some other hazards.  Reducing many hazards in their magnitude is always – as a goal – a good idea.  Some hazards are related to risk in such a way that less exposure to the hazard is always preferred.  Examples are hazards such as exposure to asbestos, or welding flash.  No one needs any level of asbestos or welding flash.  If zero can be achieved then that is good.  The risk-exposure curve begins at the “zero” origin conceptually something like the first figure below.

However physical activity is necessary in some amount.  An overly sedentary lifestyle is viewed as being less than ideal.  Hence the risk-exposure curve does not begin at the origin.  Zero exposure does not equate to zero risk.  The relationship is conceptually a bathtub type curve where risk rises with both too little and too much physical activity.  The challenge is to avoid excesses of both kinds.  Thus there will be examples of physical work where reducing the demand is not only not necessary but not helpful.

Risk - positive

Positively correlated hazard-risk curve (e.g. asbestos, welding flash, falls from height)

Risk - bathtub

“Bathtub” type hazard-risk curve (e.g. physical work)

About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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1 Response to Physical activity – a different kind of hazard. What’s the right amount of work?

  1. rodcurrey says:

    I think risk is a moving target that when we take aim at it, it can move, then when we try to anticipate the moves and it stays still.
    What mechanism is there to abort a task due to a high or unacceptable consequence? Like psychical activity it requires a balance, but risk often dilutes consequences.

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