Each workplace has its own goals, processes, and required manual effort. Despite the technologies available today, the human workforce remains indispensable in delivering different kinds of jobs.
However, people are limited, and we are bound to get affected by the nature of our work, the equipment and tools we work with, and other tangible and intangible conditions that surround our work. While every business hopes that their systems, processes, and furniture and equipment affect their staff solely in a positive way, in reality, it isn’t always the case.
And here enters the case of human factors engineering.
What is human factors engineering?
More commonly known as ergonomics, human factors engineering is the science that deals with incorporating people’s physical and psychological traits into systems and design. It has three broad domains, namely the cognitive, organizational, and physical ergonomics.
This article will focus more on physical ergonomics since that is the type that most workplaces already recognize. But before going further, let’s take a quick look at some of the things that fall under each of the mentioned domains.
Domains of human factors engineering:
The three domains of ergonomics center on very different concerns, and thus produce different results. However, these results do interact and can create a healthy work environment highly conducive for boosting and sustaining productivity, safety, and the overall performance of an organization.
Cognitive ergonomics focuses on the usability of a product or system in terms of the users’ mental processes. It delves into factors like attention span, memory, perception, and motor responses to prevent or address issues related to:
- human performance and reliability
- human-computer interaction
- mental workload
- mental stress
It draws heavily from disciplines like psychology and information design.
Like cognitive ergonomics, this second domain centers on non-tangible factors that affect workers. It tackles organizational structures as well as their socio-technical systems, procedures, policies, company culture, and other factors that affect workflow.
Some of its specific areas of concern are:
- managerial processes
- human resource management
- quality management
- reward system
- work hours
Physical is the most commonly known type of ergonomics. For instance, it is very common these days to see ergonomic chairs, desks, pillows, keyboards, mousepads, and many other ergonomic office supplies and furniture designed to lessen or eliminate user discomfort.
Physical ergonomics draws mainly from studying human anatomy and is aimed at preventing and addressing issues related to:
- workplace layout
- repetitive motion
- materials handling
- musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs
How human factors engineering started?
Reports of work-related health problems have been around since the days of old. However, relevant discussions on the relationship between working conditions and health only started during the industrial period.
When the culture of hard labor and increasing health hazards prevailed, Bernardino Ramazzini, a physician, wrote the very first book about occupational health. Today, the scientific community regards Ramazzini as the father of occupational medicine.
Now, you might be thinking that human factors engineering followed right after Ramazzini’s work. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.
The importance of human factors engineering took a rather slow path to discovery. Just like vaccines and other life-saving things we know today, the development of ergonomics took human errors and loss of lives before it could begin.
Tragic errors before ergonomics:
In a study done by psychologists and aeronautical engineers right after World War II, it was found that one big reason behind many aircraft accidents was the poor design of the altimeters used in planes. Because of the confusing interface of the altimeters then, the pilots are said to have misread the device, leading to accidents that caused their lives.
In the field of health care, on the other hand, design-related errors had also happened. For one, epidural anesthetic bags were initially very similar to the design of IV medication bags. Although they were made for very different purposes, these two bags were easily mistaken for each other.
And as you might have guessed, a related fatal medical error did take place. A nurse mistakenly connected a medication intended for an epidural catheter to a patient’s IV line, causing the patient to suffer cardiac arrest.
These are just two of the many design-related errors that led to a tragic end. The silver lining, however, is that these errors paved the way for human factors to be recognized as crucial details in designing products and systems, both for homes and workplaces.
The benefits of ergonomics:
With human factors in the equation, there are now fewer errors related to product and systems design. However, reducing errors isn’t all that ergonomics achieves. Here are some benefits of ergonomics every workplace can take advantage of:
1. Improved comfort:
Work-related physical strains can be minimized by using ergonomic furniture, equipment, and tools. From chairs and desks that aid proper posture, to hand tools that make repetitive work less strenuous, the applications of ergonomics benefit people from different lines of work.
Also, tools that are designed to lessen or eliminate confusion make workers more comfortable and confident with the work that they do.
2. Better health:
Related to improved comfort, integrating ergonomics in the workplace helps keep you and your employees in optimal physical, mental, and even emotional health. Although stress is almost a natural occurrence in daily work, it can be minimized if an organization pays attention to its systems and how these interact with the workers’ mental processes.
3. Boosted productivity:
Fatigued workers obviously can’t work to the best of their ability. In fact, most businesses that have invested in ergonomics did so for this very reason. If workers are saved from unnecessary stress and discomfort, they can channel and focus their energy on important things.
4. Enhanced efficiency:
User-friendly procedures, equipment, and tools make work generally more efficient. Also, because errors are reduced, fewer resources are needed to achieve one’s desired outputs or outcomes.
B2C businesses are also more likely to retain their customers with efficient systems.
5. Reduced costs:
Although it might not be evident at first, ergonomics actually saves you from costs incurred from MSDs, workers’ poor productivity and errors in the job. Plus, if you choose highly reliable products, it’s likely that your furniture and tools will last for a long time without having to be repaired or replaced.
6. Increased employee morale:
Your employees know when you give attention to their welfare and working conditions. Putting up systems and tools that help them do their job can make them feel better about your organization and their job, hence boosting their motivation. This reduces the rate of employee turnover and the risk of workers losing their drive to perform.
7. Aesthetic value:
Ergonomic furniture and supplies are designed not only for improved functionality but also for minimized unpleasant features. Most supplies like desks, chairs, and even signage can improve a place’s aesthetic appeal.
Another example is an ergonomic office layout. It not only creates an environment conducive for work but also makes the space more pleasing to the senses.
Both B2B and B2C businesses benefit here, with B2B offices making their place more attractive to their clients and B2C businesses to their customers.
Misconceptions about ergonomics:
Just like any concept, ergonomics has its own share of myths and misconceptions believed by some people. Here are a few:
1. It’s only for office jobs:
Wrong. Going back from some of the tragic errors that inspired the recognition and application of ergonomics, it becomes obvious that ergonomics plays important roles across many different lines of work.
Some fields that make use of ergonomics include engineering, aeronautics, healthcare, archeology, and information technology. Plus, a lot of places actually benefit from ergonomics, such as homes, schools, libraries, streets, and more.
2. It’s all about furniture and products:
This is a common misconception given that furniture and products are tangible. But since we know now that ergonomics also deals with intangible things, this myth is one that we can easily cross off our beliefs.
3. Ergonomic tools are one-size-fits-all:
Another wrong idea. In fact, ergonomic solutions are very personal. Some ergonomic tools and design prove to be suitable for many people, yes, but they don’t give the same exact effects or benefits to everyone.
When it comes to office layout, for example, each person has a preference that he or she thinks works best. This is why most companies allow their workers to personalize their work area and organize things in a way that would make the place personally comfortable to work in.
4. It’s only necessary if someone gets injured:
When it comes to safety, a lot of businesses still put more value on addressing injuries than preventing them. However, this kind of paradigm not only puts workers’ safety at the bottom of a company’s priority list but also risks huge financial costs.
Also, most MSDs resulting from non-ergonomic tools and furniture are irreversible. So why wait for a serious injury if ergonomics can prevent it?
5. It’s expensive:
The problem with some businesses that are new to using ergonomics is that they overdo it. But you don’t need to look for the most expensive ergonomic supplies. Start with what you can afford and see what happens.
Some ergonomic systems don’t even require monetary investment, like those that have
to do with the organizational structure, procedures, and policies.
1. Do I need to hire an ergonomist before applying ergonomics?
Quick answer: It depends on the problem you want to solve.
You don’t need professional permission before you can invest in ergonomic furniture or design a user-friendly system. However, there are situations where hiring or consulting with an ergonomist is your best move, such as:
- When employees experience repetitive stress or incur repetitive injury
- When your organization wants to make individualized improvements in work stations
- When you want workers to receive professional training on ergonomics
2. Should I invest in ergonomics although I’m just starting my business?
Yes, definitely, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Ergonomics might seem like a luxury at the beginning, but in reality, it’s an investment that saves you from costs that work-related errors and injury can incur. Plus, putting up ergonomic systems–not necessary physical materials–saves you time and mental energy.
3. Can ergonomics increase my revenue?
Not directly, but yes. Scientific studies have proven more than once that ergonomics makes work more efficient and workers more productive. As such, workers can do so much more within the same hours they usually spend at work, resulting in less operational costs.
An ergonomic work environment also lessens the risk of workers leaving their jobs, which cuts down the time needed for recruitment, applications, and other onboarding processes for new employees.
For businesses like restaurants and shops, a comfortable space can attract customers to keep coming back.
4. Where can I buy ergonomic furniture and supplies?
That depends on what specific furniture or supplies you are looking for. If there are home improvement or office supplies stores near you, you can go ahead and ask them about ergonomic supplies. If you know somebody who uses anything ergonomic, don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations.
You can also search for manufacturers and distributors online. Bonus tip: read reviews before purchasing anything.
5. Are all ergonomic equipment tools better than non-ergonomic ones?
Not always. One existing problem among manufacturers of ergonomic products is the lack of strict standards on what passes as ergonomic.
Because of this, there are products out there that might not give you the benefits you would expect them to provide. The best way to avoid unreliable products is to trust only manufacturers with a considerable volume of positive reviews.
Other than this, choosing ergonomics is always a good decision.
6. How can I learn more about ergonomics?
If you’re after a professional seminar or training, it is best to contact an ergonomist and set an appointment.
There are also several references that you can read online. It would be good to research the specific ergonomic furniture, equipment, supplies, and systems available for your specific line of work.
Human-factors engineering benefits company owners, employees, clients, and customers. While its impact on revenue may be difficult to recognize at first, its long-term rewards stretch across several facets of a business, from safety to employee satisfaction to aesthetics.
Although ergonomics usually come in the form of furniture and equipment, intangible organizational systems and policies can also be ergonomically designed. And because studies support their overall positive effects in the workplace, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start making ergonomic choices starting today.
About Author: This is a guest post from Rose dela Cruz who works as a Technical Writer with Engineer Warehouse