The word "Ergonomics" comes from two Greek words "ergon," meaning work, and "nomos" meaning "laws." Today, however, the word is used to describe the science of "designing the job to fit the worker, not forcing the worker to fit the job." Ergonomics covers all aspects of a job, from the physical stresses it places on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones and the like, to environmental factors which can effect hearing, vision, and general comfort and health.
Are ergonomics and human factors the same thing?
So what is ergonomics (or human factors)? Are they the same thing?
Essentially yes, 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 website we’ve used whichever of the two terms is more often used in that context.
Ergonomics is about designing for people, wherever they interact with products, systems or processes. We usually don’t notice good design (unless perhaps, it’s exceptional) because it gives us no cause to, but we do notice poor design. 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 IEHF is the only body in the UK managing and representing this competency.
Practitioners study how people interact with products, processes and environments day to day in order to improve them, to make them easier to use, safer, more comfortable, more efficient. They take into account and apply relevant research to help with this and to suggest recommendations. But none of this can happen without a thorough knowledge and understanding of the users and their experiences.
Applying good ergonomics will make a product easy to use, it will help make a manufacturing process efficient, it will make furniture comfortable, it will contribute to safety, it will add many of the dimensions a product, system or environment needs to make it fit for purpose.