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Human factors and ergonomics

Belongs to subject Human engineering in industry

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 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. The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics or human factors as follows:

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. Human factors and ergonomics is concerned with the "fit" between the user, equipment, and environment or "fitting a job to a person". 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.

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.

Ergonomics comprise three main fields of research: physical, cognitive and organizational ergonomics. Specializations in the field of physical ergonomics may include visual ergonomics. Specializations within the field of cognitive ergonomics may include usability, human–computer interaction, and user experience engineering. The emerging field of human factors in highway safety uses human factor principles to understand the actions and capabilities of road users – car and truck drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. – and use this knowledge to design roads and streets to reduce traffic collisions. For instance, "user trial engineer" may refer to a human factors professional who specializes in user trials. Although the names change, human factors professionals apply an understanding of human factors to the design of equipment, systems and working methods to improve comfort, health, safety, and productivity. Physical ergonomic principles have been widely used in the design of both consumer and industrial products. (Relevant topics include mental workload, decision-making, skilled performance, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system and Human-Computer Interaction design.) (Relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design, work systems, design of working times, teamwork, participatory design, community ergonomics, cooperative work, new work programs, virtual organizations, telework, and quality management.)

Now the design of equipment had to take into account human limitations and take advantage of human capabilities. The International Ergonomics Association (IEA) is a federation of ergonomics and human factors societies from around the world. From the outset the IOM employed an ergonomics staff to apply ergonomics principles to the design of mining machinery and environments. It encourages the design of vehicles in accordance with established human factors principles. It is one of the most influential organizations with respect to ergonomics work in automotive design. This society regularly holds conferences which address topics spanning all aspects of human factors and ergonomics.

Until recently, methods used to evaluate human factors and ergonomics ranged from simple questionnaires to more complex and expensive usability labs. Some of the more common human factors methods are listed below:

The process is best used early in the design process. Iterative design: Also known as prototyping, the iterative design process seeks to involve users at several stages of design, to correct problems as they emerge. Task analysis: A process with roots in activity theory, task analysis is a way of systematically describing human interaction with a system or process to understand how to match the demands of the system or process to human capabilities. Best used early in the design process. User analysis: Methods analysis is the process of studying the tasks a worker completes using a step-by-step investigation. Time studies are often used to analyze cyclical jobs. Predetermined time systems are methods for analyzing the time spent by workers on a particular task. Other common work measurement systems include MODAPTS and MOST. Cognitive walkthrough: This method is a usability inspection method in which the evaluators can apply user perspective to task scenarios to identify design problems. Kansei method: As applied to macroergonomics, this method can translate employee's responses to changes to a work system into design specifications. Systems analysis tool (SAT): Macroergonomic analysis and design (MEAD): This method assesses work-system processes by using a ten-step process. This method uses computerized tools and statistical analysis for workstation design.

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