Human factors and ergonomics

Practical demonstrations of ergonomic principles

Human factors and ergonomics (commonly referred to as human factors) is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the (engineering and) design of products, processes, and systems. The goal of human factors is to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety and comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between the human and the thing of interest.[1] It is not simply changes or amendments to the work enviornment but encompases theory, methods, data and principles all applied in the field of ergonomics.[2]

The field is a combination of numerous disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology, anthropometry, interaction design, visual design, user experience, and user interface design. In research, human factors employs the scientific method to study human behavior so that the resultant data may be applied to the four primary goals. In essence, it is the study of designing equipment, devices and processes that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities. The two terms "human factors" and "ergonomics" are essentially synonymous.[3][4][5]

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics or human factors as follows:[6]

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 to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Human factors is employed to fulfill the goals of occupational health and safety and productivity. It is relevant in the design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces to machines and equipment.

Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, which can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability.

Human factors and ergonomics is concerned with the "fit" between the user, equipment, and environment or "fitting a person to a job".[7] It accounts for the user's capabilities and limitations in seeking to ensure that tasks, functions, information, and the environment suit that user.

To assess the fit between a person and the used technology, human factors specialists or ergonomists consider the job (activity) being done and the demands on the user; the equipment used (its size, shape, and how appropriate it is for the task), and the information used (how it is presented, accessed, and changed). Ergonomics draws on many disciplines in its study of humans and their environments, including anthropometry, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, industrial design, information design, kinesiology, physiology, cognitive psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, and space psychology.


The term ergonomics (from the Greek ἔργον, meaning "work", and νόμος, meaning "natural law") first entered the modern lexicon when Polish scientist Wojciech Jastrzębowski used the word in his 1857 article Rys ergonomji czyli nauki o pracy, opartej na prawdach poczerpniętych z Nauki Przyrody (The Outline of Ergonomics; i.e. Science of Work, Based on the Truths Taken from the Natural Science).[8] The French scholar Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil, apparently without knowledge of Jastrzębowski's article, used the word with a slightly different meaning in 1858. The introduction of the term to the English lexicon is widely attributed to British psychologist Hywel Murrell, at the 1949 meeting at the UK's Admiralty, which led to the foundation of The Ergonomics Society. He used it to encompass the studies in which he had been engaged during and after World War II.[9]

The expression human factors is a predominantly North American[10] term which has been adopted to emphasize the application of the same methods to non-work-related situations. A "human factor" is a physical or cognitive property of an individual or social behavior specific to humans that may influence the functioning of technological systems. The terms "human factors" and "ergonomics" are essentially synonymous.[3]

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