Ergonomics

Human factors and ergonomics (HF&E), also known as comfort design, functional design, and user-friendly systems, is a multidisciplinary field incorporating contributions from psychology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology and anthropometry.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics or human factors as follows:

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

—International Ergonomics Association

HF&E is employed to fulfil the goals of occupational health and safety and productivity. It is relevant in the design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces to machines and equipment. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, which can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability.

Human factors and ergonomics is concerned with the "fit" between the user, equipment and their environments. It takes account of the user's capabilities and limitations in seeking to ensure that tasks, functions, information and the environment suit each user.

To assess the fit between a person and the used technology, human factors specialists or ergonomists consider the job (activity) being done and the demands on the user; the equipment used (its size, shape, and how appropriate it is for the task), and the information used (how it is presented, accessed, and changed). Ergonomics draws on many disciplines in its study of humans and their environments, including anthropometry, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, industrial design, information design, kinesiology, physiology, cognitive psychology and industrial and organisational psychology.

 

Physical Ergonomics

Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomy, and some of the anthropometric, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity. Physical ergonomic principles have been widely used in the design of both consumer and industrial products. Past examples include screwdriver handles made with serrations to improve finger grip, and use of soft thermoplastic elastomers to increase friction between the skin of the hand and the handle surface. Physical ergonomics is important in the medical field, particularly to those diagnosed with physiological ailments or disorders such as arthritis (both chronic and temporary) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure that is insignificant or imperceptible to those unaffected by these disorders may be very painful, or render a device unusable, for those who are. Many ergonomically designed products are also used or recommended to treat or prevent such disorders, and to treat pressure-related chronic pain.

One of the most prevalent types of work-related injuries are musculoskeletal disorders. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMDs) result in persistent pain, loss of functional capacity and work disability, but their initial diagnosis is difficult because they are mainly based on complaints of pain and other symptoms.  Every year 1.8 million U.S. workers experience WRMDs and nearly 600,000 of the injuries are serious enough to cause workers to miss work. Certain jobs or work conditions cause a higher rate worker complaints of undue strain, localised fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest. These types of jobs are often those involving activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found substantial evidence that ergonomics programs can cut workers' compensation costs, increase productivity and decrease employee turnover.  Therefore, it is important to gather data to identify jobs or work conditions that are most problematic, using sources such as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses.

 

Posture

(Source: www.ergonomics.org)

In recent years, ergonomists have attempted to define postures which minimise unnecessary static work and reduce the forces acting on the body. All of us could significantly reduce our risk of injury if we could adhere to the following ergonomic principles:

  • All work activities should permit the worker to adopt several different, but equally healthy and safe postures.
  • Where muscular force has to be exerted it should be done by the largest appropriate muscle groups available.
  • Work activities should be performed with the joints at about mid-point of their range of movement. This applies particularly to the head, trunk, and upper limbs
 
Health and Safety Executive

(Source: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg90.pdf

Ergonomics and Human Factors at Work

This guide is aimed at employers, managers and others and will help you understand ergonomics and human factors in the workplace.  It gives some examples of ergonomic problems and simple, effective advice about how to solve them.

You may have heard the term 'ergonomics'.  In some industries, such as major hazards, defence and transport, ergonomics is also called 'human factors'.  This guide helps to explain how applying ergonomics can improve health and safety in your workplace.

Ergonomics is a science concerned with 'fit' between people and their work.  It puts people first, taking account of their capabilities and limitations. Ergonomics aims to make sure that tasks, equipment, information and environment fit each worker.

Download Ergonomics and Human Factors at Work Guide.

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