Unlocking openability for our ageing population

By guest blogger – Stephen Wilkins

Whilst packaging’s prime task is to protect its contents, often surviving drop tests of up to two metres and any amount of rough handling, ultimately it must be opened effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily.

And, though our customers are living independent lives for longer, their physical and mental faculties are diminishing. Some recent research carried out by my colleague Alastar Yoxall at Sheffield Hallam University indicated that between the ages of 65 and 75 manual dexterity in both men and women reduces by up to half.

Until recently the only types of packaging that were routinely tested for openability by elderly people were child resistant packs, certified to ISO 8317:2003 or similar standards. Even then, that standard’s adult test, which employs a panel of 100 men and women aged 50-70, can’t even pretend to mirror the population and is only a benchmark.

To satisfy the need for a system to test ease of opening of all  packaging, CEN the European standard setting body published a technical specification, CEN TS 15945 in early 2011. A technical specification is somewhat less than a European standard, it has a finite life of six years, after which it is either converted into a standard or it lapses.

CEN TS 15945 contains test methods where panels of men and women aged 65-80 open packs, testing them for effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. For effectiveness an unfamiliar pack must be opened in up to five minutes, a familiar pack must be opened in up to one minute for effectiveness and the panel member indicates their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, using a scale of smiley faces.

Our industry has welcomed the introduction of this technical specification. It doesn’t have a pre-set acceptance level so there is no pass or fail. Instead the specification is a continuous improvement tool and an aid to both competitive advantage and good corporate social responsibility.

But testing only examines existing products. Ease or difficulty of opening begins with pack design. For this reason the International Organisation for standardization (ISO) is presently developing a standard entitled Accessible Design-Ease of Opening. This will use information and research gathered by CEN in producing TS 15945 and should be published in the next year.

These two standards/specifications will lead to more openable packs. They will create a scientific basis for openability and thus help banish ill informed and prejudiced criticism of our industry.