Our physical therapists and occupational therapist is available to analyze office or industrial work environments in an effort to reduce workplace injuries. They also perform Functional Capacity Evaluations to determine at what level a people can function in a job or normal activities.
Human factors and Ergonomics (HF&E) is a multidisciplinary field incorporating contributions from psychology, engineering, industrial design, graphic design, statistics, operations research and anthropometry. In essence it is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities. The two terms “human factors” and “ergonomics” are essentially synonymous.
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.
HF&E is employed to fulfill the goals of 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 and psychology.
Ergonomics: the science of designing user interaction with equipment and workplaces to fit the user.
The term ergonomics, from Greek Έργον, meaning “work”, and Νόμος, meaning “natural laws”, first entered the modern lexicon when Wojciech Jastrzębowski used the word in his 1857 article Rys ergonomji czyli nauki o pracy, opartej na prawdach poczerpniętych z Nauki Przyrody (The Outline of Ergonomics, i.e. Science of Work, Based on the Truths Taken from the Natural Science). The introduction of the term to the English lexicon is widely attributed to British psychologist Hywel Murrell, at the 1949 meeting at the UK’s Admiralty, which led to the foundation of The Ergonomics Society. He used it to encompass the studies in which he had been engaged during and after the World War II.
The expression human factors is a North American term which has been adopted to emphasise the application of the same methods to non work-related situations. A “human factor” is a physical or cognitive property of an individual or social behavior specific to humans that may influence the functioning of technological systems. The terms “human factors” and “ergonomics” are essentially synonymous.
Specialisations within this field include visual ergonomics, cognitive ergonomics, usability, human–computer interaction, and user experience engineering. New terms are being generated all the time. For instance, “user trial engineer” may refer to a human factors professional who specialises in user trials. Although the names change, human factors professionals apply an understanding of human factors to the design of equipment, systems and working methods in order to improve comfort, health, safety and productivity.
According to the International Ergonomics Association within the discipline of ergonomics there exist domains of specialization:
- Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomy, and some of the anthropometric, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity.
- Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system. (Relevant topics include mental workload, decision-making, skilled performance, human-computer interaction, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system and Human-Computer Interaction design.)
- Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of socio-technical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes.(Relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design, design of working times, teamwork, participatory design, community ergonomics, cooperative work, new work programs, virtual organizations, telework, and quality management.)
- Environmental ergonomics is concerned with human interaction with the environment. The physical environment is characterized by: climate, temperature, pressure, vibration, light.
Human factors issues arise in simple systems and consumer products as well. Some examples include cellular telephones and other hand held devices that continue to shrink yet grow more complex (a phenomenon referred to as “creeping featurism”), millions of VCRs blinking “12:00” across the world because very few people can figure out how to program them, or alarm clocks that allow sleepy users to inadvertently turn off the alarm when they mean to hit ‘snooze’. A user-centered design (UCD), also known as a systems approach or the usability engineering life cycle aims to improve the user-system. 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.
HF&E continues to be successfully applied in the fields of aerospace, aging, health care, IT, product design, transportation, training, nuclear and virtual environments, among others. 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, localized 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.