Ergonomics is about human (user)-centred design for optimal performance
The International Ergonomics Association (IEA)
, which is the federation of all ergonomics and human factors societies around the world, established the following definition:
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.
Ergonomists/human factors specialists use a systems approach to understand how parts of the system work and interact. Taking a systems approach begins with a few key principles:
- The workplace system is comprised of three basic elements: people, workplaces, and management systems (depicted as the three circles in the graphic below). These workplace elements overlap and influence each other. The system is dynamic and elements are interdependent. This means that the system can’t be fully understood by looking at separate, disparate parts and needs to be looked at as a whole. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Read case studies of the principles of ergonomics and human factors in practice.
- Workplace systems are not automatically safe. Workplace systems are complex and are layered with people, policies, resources, procedures, and practices that may, in some ways, contribute to unwanted outcomes or losses.
- Humans are central to the performance of the system. They are not the problem, rather they are problem-solvers. Valuing and understanding the human contribution is the goal, and why an action made sense at the time is a crucial starting point.
- Safety is a dynamic and emergent property of a system. Learning, communication, and action are central to system performance.
- Human error is unintentional. Errors are tightly linked with and can be traced back to the workplace system. It’s important to understand performance in context of the overall system — “complacency” and “loss of situational awareness” are labels that don’t provide understanding. Actions and decisions are often judged to be erroneous in hindsight.
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