“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 optimise human well-being and overall system performance.”
Etymology:The name ergonomics is derived from the Ancient Greek words: Ergon – Work, and Nomos – natural law. It has been driven by our evolving desire to understand human attributes (e.g. size, strength), capabilities and weaknesses, and apply this knowledge to optimise the design of work products and processes. While people have been interested in these topics since the beginning of time, contemporary ergonomics routinely draws on the related sciences of biomechanics, work physiology, human size (anthropometry), occupational psychology, environmental physics and principles of learning.
Next: Click on Timeline ⇒
Modern ergonomics – a brief timeline:
- 1857: Poland: The word “ergonomics” is first published by Polish Prof. Wojciech Jastrzebowski in his piece “An outline of ergonomics, or the science of work”.
- 1921: Japan, Gito Terouka founds the Kurashiki Institute of Science of Labour and publishes “Research of efficiency: ergonomics”.
- 1921: Russian researchers at the first conference on Scientific Organisation of Labour advocate an approach that coupled discovering maximum efficiency (in the vein of Taylorism) PLUS the minimisation of safety hazards and fostering of the sound health of workers.
- 1943: During World War 2 it is observed that fully functional aircraft flown by the best trained pilots still crash. Pilot error is reduced by focused redesign of the controls after psychological and engineering analysis – human capability (ergonomics!) being the driver.
- 1947: Hywel Murrell, a chemist graduate and later a psychologist professor, is appointed to lead the UK Royal Navy Motion Study Unit. He heads an inter-disciplinary team studying the motions involved in handling gunnery and ammunition, the layout of equipment, and the handling of information.
- 1949: Murrell, invites a group of distinguished scientists to the Admiralty and they form the Human Research Society with the intent of holding scientific meetings for the discussion of research.
- 1949: Murrell officially proposes the name Ergonomics as the term to define the evolving multidisciplinary field. This is accepted by vote in 1950. The Ergonomic Research Society is formed and kicks off the first ergonomics professional association.1
- In 1951 Murrell joins Tube investments – a holding company for specialised engineering companies and launches the first ergonomics department for British industry.
- 1953: The European Productivity Agency, EPA, starts activities to implement human factors [another word for ergonomics] in productivity through the ‘fitting the task to the worker’ project.
- 1957: The United States Human Factors Society (a term still used in America for ergonomics) is formed. “Human Factors Engineering” is emphasised by the US military with a focus on the role of the individual within complex systems. In Britain the firm Taylor & Francis begins publishing the Journal of Ergonomics.
Next: Click on Fact or Fiction ⇒__________________ 1 http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a196281.pdf – International Ergonomics Association activities and constituent societies, prepared for U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory.
Fact or fiction? 5 myths exposed:
|1.||Fiction: ergonomics lacks a scientific basis. Fact: ergonomics has a history originating in military scientific research.|
|2.||Fiction: ergonomics is the science of belief. Fact: scientifically valid studies have routinely shown the efficacy of ergonomics.|
- A review of a three year Participatory Ergonomics program for 88,000 US postal workers which found a 19% reduction in strains, better safety scores, better morale and improved mail flow.1
- A six year study across 17 geographically diverse US aluminium manufacturing businesses with 24,041 people, which concluded: “evidence of a substantial, positive impact of systematic ergonomic HC [Hazard Control] implementation on worker MSD [Musculoskeletal Disorders = sprains and strains] and injury risk… systematic ergonomic HC implementation was associated with reduced risk for all injuries as well as MSD only.”2
- A systematic review of the effects of human factors and ergonomics on “Health Care Patient Safety Practices”. This reviewed 28 studies (20 were controlled, 2 were randomized controlled trials and 8 were before/after studies without controls but met the quality assessment criteria) and 3,227 participants. The author’s concluded: “The results showed that the interventions positively affected the outcomes of health care workers” and that “the human factors and ergonomic interventions fairly consistently led to improvements in both health care workers’ outcomes and patient safety”.3
|3.||Fiction: “ergonomic” furniture is always better. Fact: be cautious: ergonomic doesn’t always mean ergonomic.|
|4.||Fiction: Anyone in the health science fields can consider themselves as an ergonomist and effectively apply the principles. Fact: ergonomics is complex and requires experience and specific training.|
|5.||Fiction: ergonomics is just about office furniture. Fact: ergonomics may not be the most famous field, but it is everywhere.|
Next: Click on Questions to ask ⇒________________________ 1 Orr GB, Elyea LL. The Participatory Ergonomics at the US Postal Service. Human Factors & Ergonomics Society of Australia 42nd Annual Conference 2006. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268381180_The_Participatory_Ergonomics_at_the_US_Postal_Service 2Cantley LF, Taiwo OA, Galusha D, et al. Effect of systematic ergonomic hazard identification and control implementation on musculoskeletal disorder and injury risk. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health. 2014;40(1):57-65. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3394. (peer reviewed) 3Mao X, Jia P, Zhang L, Zhao P, Chen Y, Zhang M. An Evaluation of the Effects of Human Factors and Ergonomics on Health Care and Patient Safety Practices: A Systematic Review. 2015 PLoS ONE 10(6): e0129948. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129948 (peer reviewed)
Questions to ask:To wrap up I asked my colleagues, and some of our clients:
“What should people look for when hiring ergonomics consultants?” “How does Dohrmann Consulting approach each one?”
There were 5 recurring themes:
- Experience: How long has the ergonomist been practicing? What kinds of work have they done? Carefully appraise whether their experience fits your needs (note this may not mean they have worked in your industry – but that they have worked on similar challenges. Cross-industry experience can be applicable and invaluable to your industry as your consultant will have been exposed to a wider variety of problems and potential solutions).
Dohrmann Consulting was established in 1977. All of our consultants have at least 10+ years of experience, they also maintain a passion for learning new discoveries in their fields.
- Training: What formal and informal training have they done – both in ergonomics and related fields? Who have they been mentored by?
We have two active Certified Professional Ergonomists (only 82 people in Australia hold this rank), who are also qualified professional engineers. We also have experts in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and safety – all with many years on the ground experience in ergonomics-specific consulting, health and legal fields.
- Approach: Ergonomists have usually first completed other degrees – consider what complementary skills will suit you more. For instance, physiotherapists with additional ergonomics qualifications will have a background in physical manipulation, whereas a mechanical engineer who has also obtained an additional ergonomics qualification will have a strong understanding of machinery, equipment, and design.
Dohrmann Consulting approach problems from a scientific, practical perspective, and overlay broad industry experience and lessons learned from giving expert evidence in court.
We have two complementary divisions.
1. Legal expert opinion, where we give expert opinion in personal injury matters: these opinions have to stand up to rigorous cross examination in court.
2. Ergonomics consulting, where we assist a wide variety of organisations to create safer workplaces and/or introduce more human centred designs. Recent examples of this work include tram and train cabin design, aircraft interior design, warehouse design, office design, workplace assessments and safety training.
- Breadth of accessible knowledge base: Does their team discuss and peer-review reports? Can they leverage the experience of peers?
Our team has a weekly meeting where issues and solutions are discussed. We peer review all reports. We have an extensive technical and legal library.
- Easy to work with: Can they easily discuss your situation, provide examples of similar problems which they have encountered and solved, and provide you with a sensible suggested approach? Do they know how to put people at ease and ask questions?
Listening and understanding are crucial to effective ergonomic solutions. Qualified ergonomists will always ask lots of targeted questions of frontline workers to understand the whole work context – this often unearths unexpected issues, as well as potential solutions.
If you have any questions, or would like to benefit from the expertise of our team, then please give us a call on 03 9376 1844 or visit the website at www.ergonomics.com.au. We work across Australia.