Definition and Applications

The word ergonomics — “the science of work” is derived from the Greek ergon (work) and nomos (laws). 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 (ratified by the IEA Council, 2000). The terms ergonomics and human factors are often used interchangeably or as a unit (e.g., human factors/ergonomics – HF/E or E/HF), a practice that is adopted by the IEA.

 

Although HF/E practitioners often work within particular economic sectors, industries, or application fields, the science and practice of HF/E is not domain-specific.  HF/E is a multi-disciplinary, user-centric integrating science. The issues HF/E addresses are typically systemic in nature; thus HF/E uses a holistic, systems approach to apply theory, principles, and data from many relevant disciplines to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments, and systems.  HF/E takes into account physical, cognitive, sociotechnical, organizational, environmental and other relevant factors, as well as the complex interactions between the human and other humans, the environment, tools, products, equipment, and technology.1

In order to practice effectively, human factors/ergonomics professionals who are specialists in a given domain or discipline must address issues and challenges with sufficient consideration of all of the relevant elements of HF/E. This assumes a broad understanding of other HF/E areas; however, actual problem solving requires participatory approaches through consultation with HF/E specialists in different domains as well as specialists in other relevant fields.

 

HF/E Principles

HF/E principles are rooted in sociotechnical values.  HF/E participatory design principles and methodologies apply across the design of tasks, jobs, products, environments, industries and types of work. HF/E principles are rooted in essential core values:2,3

  • humans as assets
  • technology as a tool to assist humans,
  • promotion of quality of life,
  • respect for individual differences, and
  • responsibility to all stakeholders.

 

HF/E Perspectives

HF/E encompasses not only physical safety and health but also the cognitive and psycho-social aspects of living and working. Additionally, HF/E can focus on microergonomic aspects of design – including design of the procedures, the context, and the equipment and tools used to perform tasks – as well as macroergonomic aspects of design – including the work organization, types of jobs, technology used, and work roles, communication and feedback.3,4 These various aspects cannot be viewed in isolation.  HF/E reflects a holistic perspective toward the design of products and systems, considering the interrelatedness of human, technical, and environmental components and the potential effects of system design changes on all parts of the system.

 

Participation in system design

HF/E contributes to safe and sustainable systems through a unique combination of three drivers for intervention:

(1) HF/E takes a systems approach, using a systematic, iterative, step-by-step process;

(2) HF/E is design-driven; and

(3) HF/E focuses on optimizing two closely related outcomes, performance and well-being.3

HF/E practitioners recognize the need for participation of all stakeholder groups (participatory human factors/ergonomics) in system design. Effective HF/E is indispensable to support our life and work in the 21st century; without attention to HF/E, system design will not support the sustainability of work, organizations, or societies.

 

Stakeholders of HF/E

Any person or group of people that can affect, be affected, or perceive themselves to be affected by a HF/E decision or activity is a stakeholder of HF/E. Stakeholders are inter-related and include:

  • System influencers – e.g., competent authorities such as governments, regulators, standardization organizations at national and regional levels.
  • System decision makers – e.g., employers and managers, those who make decisions about requirements for the system design, purchasing system, implementation and use;
  • System experts – e.g., professional HF/E specialists, professional engineers and psychologists who contribute to the design of systems based on their specific professional backgrounds;
  • System actors – e.g., employees/workers, product/service users, who are part of the system and who are directly or indirectly affected by its design and who, directly or indirectly, affect its performance.5

 

Stakeholders for HF/E can represent many levels, domains, and types of influence and investment, such as:

  • Global level – Intergovernmental organizations (e.g., UN) and their agencies (e.g., WHO); international nongovernmental organization (e.g., IEA)
  • Regional level – Regional branch of intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations; IEA networks  
  • National organization level – ministry of education, university faculty/department, institute, corporate companies, IEA member societies 
  • Individual level – minister of education, university president/dean/department director, university professors, HF/E specialists, students, office workers, factory workers

Value of HF/E in the world of work

Work systems are made up of humans, the tools, processes, and technologies they use, and the work environment. HF/E contributes to the creation of safe and sustainable work systems by considering the interrelatedness of human, technical, and environmental components and the potential effects of work system design changes on all parts of the system. Members of the HF/E community recognize the need for participation of all stakeholder in system design groups (i.e., Participatory HF/E).

HF/E simultaneously contributes to the economic health of organizations by enhancing worker wellbeing, capability and sustainability, maximizing performance, and reducing direct costs as well as indirect costs from productivity losses, quality deficiencies, and employee turnover. Workplaces that are designed with HF/E principles have better employee performance and produce better business results. HF/E design in work systems is simply and unquestionably good business.6

Resources cited:

  1. Bridger, R. S. (2018). Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics, 4th Edition. Boca Raton, FL, USA.  CRC Press.
  2. Read, G.J.M., Salmon, P.M., Goode, N., & Lenné, M.G. (2018). A sociotechnical design toolkit for bridging the gap between systems‐based analyses and system design.Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries,28(6), 327-341.
  3. Principles and Guidelines for HF/E Design and Management of Work Systems. (2019) Joint Document by IEA and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  4. Wilson, J. R. (2014). Fundamentals of systems of ergonomics/human factors. Applied Ergonomics (45), 5-13.
  5. Dul, J., Bruder, R., Buckle, P., Carayon, P., Falzon, P., Marras, W. S., Wilson, J. R., & van der Doelen, B. (2012). A strategy for human factors/ergonomics: Developing the discipline and profession,Ergonomics, 55:4, 377-395, DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2012.661087
  6. Hendrick, H. W. (2003). Determining the cost-benefits of ergonomics projects and factors that lead to their success. Applied Ergonomics, 34, 419-427.