Ergonomics Standards


The Phrase “ISO standards” is generally used in conversations by safety professionals.

However, the knowledge and understanding of its creation is not fully understood by many.

We generally reference standards as recommendation without understanding the true relevance and application. Perhaps we may ask ourselves, are this standards truly peculiar to Nigeria?

This month’s write-up would be addressing the following questions;

What is a standard?

Where do standards come from?

How is a standard developed?

Why do we need Ergonomics Standards?

Pix 1

ergonomics standards

What is a Standard?

“A standard is a documented agreement containing technical specifications or other precise criteria, to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics, to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for the purpose served by those making reference to the standard” (ISO, 2004).

The basis for worldwide standardization in all areas is provided primarily by three organizations: the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Standards related to human factors and ergonomics are developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

In Africa, I am not sure of any effective standardization bodies. However, in Europe, there are three standardization bodies: the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Their mission is to develop and achieve a coherent set of voluntary standards as a basis for a Single European Market/European Economic Area.

At the national level almost every nation has its own national body for standards development. Examples of the national standardization organizations include the British Standards Institution (BSI), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Association Fran¸caise de Normalisation (AFNOR), Deutsches Institut f¨ur Normung (DIN), and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON). Standards can also be prepared by technical societies, labor organizations, consumer organizations, trade associations, and governmental agencies.

Where Do Standards Come From?

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is the world’s largest developer of voluntary International Standards. International Standards give state of the art specifications for products, services and good practice, helping to make industry more efficient and effective. Developed through global consensus, they help to break down barriers to international trade.

The International Organization for Standardization was Established in 1947 as a Non Governmental organisation with more than 160 member countries, single representative from each country, with a democratic system of voting and based in Geneva.

In the early 1970s, the International Ergonomics Association decided to initiate the development of ergonomic standards (Parsons & Shackel, 1995). In 1974, the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) established its Technical Committee TC 159 ‘Ergonomics’ to formulate ergonomics standards in many different fields. In 1981, the first official standard on ‘ergonomic principles in the design of work systems’ (ISO 6385) was published.

In the 1980s, Europe developed towards a free internal market. To avoid unfair trade, common standards were desired, for example for the safety requirements of machinery. In 1989, the European Committee for Standardisation (Comité Européen de Normalisation, CEN) established the Technical Committee TC 122 ‘Ergonomics’ to address ergonomics requirements in relation to safety of machinery. The first European ergonomics standard was published in 1990 as ENV 26385, which was an adoption of the above ISO 6385. Afterwards CEN has published ergonomics standards on safety of machinery and other ergonomics issues.

In the case of European standards, the national members of CEN, being the national standardization bodies of countries of the European Union (EU) and the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA), have agreed to implement these standards in their national system and withdraw conflicting national standards. This obligation does not apply for ISO standards.

Pix 3

How Is A Standard Developed?

  • Proposal at level of SC or TC
  • Vote on a new work item ISO NWI 12345
  • Allocation to WG of experts ISOTC159SC? WG? N???
  • Production of a CD ISO CD 12345
  • Vote on CD + comments
  • Production of a DIS ISO DIS 12345
  • Vote on DIS +comments
  • Production of FDIS ISO FDIS 12345
  • Yes/no vote
  • ISO standard ISO 12345
  • 5-year review
  • (TR and TS)

Why Do We Need Ergonomics Standards?

Presently, we do not have National standards on ergonomics in Nigeria. Most dimensions and reference given from international standards cannot be used for the Nigerian population since it is not from our dataset. This only tells us all that the bases for most regulations, guidelines and standards lie with the generation and exploration of the ergonomics tools.

For example, existing data on the size and shape of industrial workers (anthropometric data set) is limited/does not exist in Nigeria. Because of the lack of anthropometric data for the general worker population, safety researchers have generally relied on data drawn from safety institutions from other countries. This is totally wrong!

The design myth is that anthropometric data are universal. Moreover, anthropometry are simply only specific to the populations which they describe and percentiles are only specific to the dimension they describe.

Also, designers do not understand general ergonomic recommendations, do not know how to make them concrete in the specific situations, or do not consider them important enough if they are in conflict with other design requirements.

Even though several ergonomics standard contain specifications for ergonomic solutions, specific technical solutions are not given, since the optimum solution depends on the organizational context. For example, the maximum load that a person can lift safely, not only depends on the mass of the load, but also on the handling frequency and duration, and on characteristics of the individual who have to perform the task.

Therefore, if a designer wants to apply the current set of ergonomics standards, he faces two problems. First, horizontal standards have to be selected and applied to the specific production situation. Second, requiring standards have to be translated to design solutions for the specific situation.

Although designers seem to prefer vertical solution-describing requirements to embed ergonomics knowledge in the design, ergonomics experts are concerned about the scientific quality of such standards, and seem to prefer horizontal performance standards.

Not to forget, ergonomics standards are as well important in developing Products that show a high level of satisfaction, acceptability, accessibility, usability and inclusion for commercial success. I have decided not to write on this aspect of ergonomics standards, limiting this write-up to safety only.

Last of all, research is needed on the required conditions in organizations and contents of standards, such that ergonomics can be integrated in the design processes with minimum input of external ergonomics expertise, to achieve social and economic goals.