Ergonomics and human factors

The word ergonomics — “the science of work” is derived from the Greek ergon (work) and nomos (natural law). According to Stephen Pheasant in his book, Body Space Anthropometry, Ergonomics and the Design of Work (2003), the term was coined by Professor Hywell Murrell on 8 July 1949, where a group of researchers from different backgrounds resolved to form a society for ‘the study of human beings in their working environment’.

International Ergonomics Association (IEA) define the ergonomics (or human factors) as 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.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) defines human factors as concerned with the application of what we know about people, their abilities, characteristics, and limitations to the design of equipment they use, environments in which they function, and jobs they perform.

The terms ergonomics and human factors can be used interchangeably, even though ergonomics usually relates with the physical aspects of workplace such as workstation and control panels, while human factors is used in comprehensive system such as tool, machine, people, workplace, task procedures, and environment.

Ergonomics domain

Physical Ergonomics

Cognitive Ergonomics

Organizational Ergonomics

Concerned with human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity such as working postures.

Related topics:

  • Working postures
  • Materials handling
  • Repetitive movements
  • Work-related musculoskeletal disorders
  • Workplace layout
  • Physical safety and health

Concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system. For example, mental workload.

Related topics:

  • Mental workload
  • Decision making
  • Skilled performance
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Human reliability
  • Work stress

Concerned with the optimization of socio-technical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes such as communication.

Related topics:

  • Communication
  • Crew resource management
  • Work design
  • Shift management
  • Teamwork
  • Procedures
  • Participatory design
  • Community ergonomics
  • Virtual organizations

Human-computer interaction

Human–computer Interaction (HCI) involves the study, planning, and design of the interaction between users and computers.

Human-computer interaction is today a large scientific field supported by research in many areas including anthropology, cognitive psychology, cognitive science, ergonomics, experimental psychology, human factors, learning, linguistics, philosophy, and sociology.

Some useful design principles in human-computer interaction:

  • Provide an interface that does not violate the user’s expectations or mental model.
  • Design a consistent interface. This will improve expectations and reduce user errors.
  • Reduce the memory requirements and memory load of the user.
  • Give feedback to the user, to inform users about what is going on.
  • Design the interface to cater to all types of users. Consider that there are great differences among individuals in memory and cognitive capabilities.
  • Use direct manipulation to simplify the way information may be accessed and manipulated by the user.
Prof. Martin Helander
Author, A Guide to Human Factors and Ergonomics

Malaysian anthropometry

Anthropometry is a branch of science that defines physical measurement of human body, specifically in size, shape, strength, and working capacity. This is a crucial subject for designing an interaction between human and task, machine, workspace, furniture, and others.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established the Online Anthropometric Database based on NIOSH Anthropometric Research 2020.

There are a bunch of anthropometry studies with regards to Malaysian
population. Explore the journal, conference papers and book chapters here.