Ergonomics literally means the science or study of work. It is about designing for people, wherever they interact with products, systems or processes. It is the science of fitting “jobs to workers” and “products to consumers”.
The emphasis within ergonomics is to ensure that designs complement the strengths and abilities of people and minimise the effects of their limitations, rather than forcing them to adapt. In achieving this aim, it becomes necessary to understand and design for the variability represented in the population, spanning such attributes as age, size, strength, cognitive ability, prior experience, cultural expectations and goals.
Qualified ergonomists are the only recognised professionals to have competency in optimising performance, safety and comfort. The ESN is the only body in Nigeria managing and representing this competency.
Researchers study the biomechanical, physiological and cognitive effects of work on people, or users’ understanding of processes, or the efficiency of systems.
Are ergonomics and human factors the same thing?
Essentially yes, human factors or human factors engineering is another way to describe ergonomics. They are different terms with the same meaning but one term may be more in favour in one country or in one industry than another. They can be used interchangeably but it’s pretty cumbersome to read “ergonomics and human factors”, so throughout this column we will use whichever of the two terms more often in relative context.
Whatever you call it, at its core, it is a human-centered approach to the design of products, equipment, workplaces, methods, processes, systems, or virtually any human endeavour. Anything that involves people can be improved through ergonomics.
What do Ergonomists do?
In general, ergonomics professionals (ergonomists) seek to optimize system and human performance by fitting jobs to workers and fitting products to users.
Ergonomists use information about people (such as anthropometry variables and their capabilities) to make human activities efficient, sustainable, satisfactory, inclusive and safe. We use human science to match jobs, systems, products to the environment, with the aim of improving the physical and mental disposition of people.
Ergonomic solutions are evidence based. Hence, we encourage both qualitative and quantitative research analysis.
An ergonomist ensures that a product or service (Product service Systems) will perform as intended. This design must be made inclusive for people who use the product or service (Including perhaps, children, the elderly and the disabled). An ergonomist can also assess existing products and services, identifying where they fail to ‘fit’ the user(s) and recommending how that fit can be improved.
What is the purpose of ergonomics in the workplace?
There is growing awareness of the need to apply practical action in the workplace to reduce work-related ill-health and accidents. An increasing focus is placed on the application of ergonomic principles in view of their great potential to improve working conditions and productivity.
Experience is being gained in applying ergonomics to workplaces in different sectors and industrial situations in both developed and developing countries, with tangible results in the reduction of work-related ill-health, occupational accidents and major industrial accidents, as well as improvements in unsatisfactory working conditions.
Strong evidence reveals that good employee health and wellbeing boosts organisational health. There are numerous reasons why investing in programs to enhance worker health and wellbeing makes good business sense. Put simply: healthy workers = healthy organisations = healthy business performance.
The goals of a comprehensive workplace ergonomics strategy include:
- Improve individual and organizational productivity
- Reduce errors and improve quality
- Reduce systematic waste
- Reduce injuries
- Reduce absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover
- Improve human and organizational performance, sustainability and well-being
An effective ergonomics process produces significant returns on investment across multiple business functions and metrics.
Ergonomics in product and service design?
Product Service System (PSS) designs are geared towards providing products that are not only usable, but also offers a great deal of accessibility, acceptability and satisfaction of service. Usability was originally referred to as
“the capability in human functional terms of a product to be used easily and effectively by the range of users, given specific training and user support, to fulfil the specific range of tasks, within the specific range of environmental scenarios” (Wilson and Corlett, 2005).
The more “usable” a product, the more “ergonomic” that product is. But it’s never that simple, and what may be ergonomic for one person, may not be for another. That’s why ergonomists apply a systematic, human-centered approach to design that considers at least three primary perspectives:
- Who is the target user population, and what are the characteristics of that population? Depending on the product, those population characteristics might include age, experience, size (height, reach length, weight, etc.), strength, cognitive abilities, sensory abilities (vision, hearing, etc.), or any number of characteristics important to the particular design.
- What is the intended use, as well as foreseeable uses and mis-uses, for the product? In other words, what tasks or activities will it be used in, and how will this product enhance performance, and protect the user from harm, while performing those tasks?
- What is the intended environment of use, as well as other foreseeable environments of use? Will the product be operated indoors or out? Will it be wet or dry? What will the lighting be like? Will there be dirt, dust or other contaminants? And so on.
Ergonomists take a holistic design approach that balances product form and function to provide a fit that optimizes performance, under well understood usage scenarios, by a well understood population of target users. Products that undergo this human-centered, ergonomic design approach are far more likely to achieve a positive user experience. Companies that deploy products that enhance user experience and performance are likely to meet with greater market success.
What is the purpose of ergonomics in process and service design?
If you’ve read the above descriptions of ergonomics and its applications, you’ll recognize a pattern of benefits, all of which create improvements in individual and organizational performance, sustainability and well-being. This same human-centered, systematic approach can be applied to any design activity, including the design of any process.
Customer service processes are great examples. Ergonomics can be applied to improve the ability of staff to deliver exemplary service, and it can be applied to enhance the customer experience while receiving that service. Ultimately, better performing employees deliver better customer service, and better customer service equates to higher customer satisfaction, all of which leads to better company performance.
Durowoju Oluwatobi is C.E.O, DUERGO LIMITED. He is an ergonomics specialist with an astute knowledge in work place research and design having completed a master’s degree in ergonomics for health and community care. email@example.com