The science and practice of Human Factors and Ergonomics is broad. It is successfully applied in many areas - from the design of baby car seats to the layout of ambulances and hospitals and the function of wheelchairs; and from the operation of control rooms, the design of hazardous processes, and the design of shift schedules; to product design, safe and effective work techniques for manual tasks, and the nature of our work environments (etc).  Human factors/ergonomics professionals can be found working in the transport industry, in defence, in the energy industry, in design, in computer software/hardware and web usability design, in health and safety, in healthcare, and in a broad range of manufacturing and corporate environments (and everywhere in between).  You may find us, or a need for our input, wherever humans work, and wherever systems, tasks, equipment and environments need to be designed well for safe and efficient task performance with excellent usability.

The unique skills of ergonomists and human factors professionals are built on knowledge from disciplines including anatomy, physiology, psychology and design, and taking a ‘systems approach’ to deliver design improvements.  They understand the physical and cognitive capabilities of people; organisational and social factors, and how within a system people, products, technologies and physical workspaces interact. Human factors professionals/ergonomists work with system users at all stages of design and evaluation of designs, and may work as part of larger product and system design teams.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics 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 optimise human well-being and overall system performance."

We have developed our own 'kiwi' short version:

'Making life work better, together'.

This reflects the process of changing something about life - be it at work or at home or somewhere in between (or over-arching); improving performance and outcomes; and doing it by working with the people. 

Human factors and ergonomics use ‘systems approaches’ that recognise that things, procedures, environments and people do not exist in isolation.   Ergonomists/human factors professionals are committed to designing with the human user in mind, and with recognition of individual differences in human capacity. They recognise that the design of things and procedures influences human behaviour and wellbeing. They utilise empirical data and evaluation in the design process, and rely on scientific methods and objective data to test hypotheses and generate data about human behaviour. (Ref. Sanders and McCormick, 1993, 7th ed).

HFE Case Studies

The Human Connection’ is a 2016 document from the Chartered Institute of Human Factors and Ergonomics (UK) that sets out a range of case studies exploring the contributions of ergonomics and human factors within many sectors.  A variety of human factors/ergonomics goals, methods and approaches are outlined under the categories of ‘simplicity and effectiveness’, ‘comfort and performance’ and ‘efficiency and safety’. Case studies are from rail, transport, security, retail, healthcare, utilities, office, distribution, defence and manufacturing sectors.  This resource highlights the value of human factors/ergonomics to industry, educators, policy makers and research funders.  We thank our UK colleagues for their excellent work in producing The Human Connection

HFE Services in New Zealand

A 2016 ACC document that was produced in liaison with HASANZ, described the roles of the different health and safety professionals in New Zealand.  The human factors/ergonomics services were described as:

  1. Analyse work systems, including people, tasks and workplaces using methods such as: task analysis, biomechanical analysis, anthropometrics, cognitive analysis, interviews, surveys, questionnaires, observations, human reliability analyses, focus groups, workshops, documentation analysis and physical measurements.
  2. Maximise health, safety, productivity and efficiency through ergonomic design, and process, systems and socio-cultural improvements.
  3. Reduce and manage sickness absence from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), stress, low engagement and poor workplace culture.
  4. Engage your employees in managing their own health risks.
  5. Analyse data to develop interventions/design options using methods such as: inferential statistics, participative design, stakeholder engagement and user trials, and facilitate their implementation.
  6. Comply with manual handling, human factors and ergonomics regulations and standards.
  7. Provide advice on the impact of relevant legislation, codes of practice, NZ/Australian/ International Standards and industry-based standards.
  8. Assist in the early stages of a design concept, so that human characteristics and human factors are included as an integral and acknowledged part of the project design and/or performance specifications.
  9. Assist in planning renovations or upgrades and help specify characteristics of new equipment, processes or systems.
  10. Assist in testing and user trialing of processes, procedures, equipment, user interface displays and workstations.
  11. Determine the demands placed on people by their activities, equipment, environment and systems and determine people's capacity to interact optimally with their work system on a physical, organisational and cognitive level, linking with human resources and social sustainability strategies.
  12. Assist in the prevention of near miss incidents, accidents and disease, and help investigate causes and develop human centred prevention strategies.
  13. Investigate problems such as manual handling, work-related psychosocial risk, fatigue, slips, trips and falls, loss of vigilance, mental and physical workloads.
  14. Evaluate changes and make recommendations regarding future interventions.
  15. Use peer-reviewed research to underpin and inform their work.  
  16. Provide training and education in human factors and ergonomics.

Common terms for standard HFE services frequently requested by New Zealand businesses include:

  • Ergonomics assessment  (and ‘ergonomic’ assessment, which is less correct)
  • Human factors assessment/analysis
  • Workplace assessment
  • Workstation assessment
  • Discomfort management
  • Injury/discomfort prevention
  • Manual handling assessment
  • Human error prevention
  • Cognitive ergonomics review
  • User review
  • Human centred design
  • User acceptance testing
  • Human factors requirements
  • Human factors/Ergonomics education
  • Workplace design
  • Ergonomics design. 

HFE professionals will first clarify the exact service needs of the client, and tailor the services to suit.

Some HFE Key words and terms

Activity analysis
Ageing workforce
Biomechanical analysis
Best practice
Cognitive performance
Control panel design
Control room design
Complex systems
Computer workstation assessment
Computer workstation design
Data gathering/analysis (interviews, questionnaires, observations)
Decision making
Design concept development
Design specifications
Design trade-offs
Dimensional analysis
Discomfort management
Discomfort prevention
Display characteristics
Equipment design
Equipment specification
Equipment evaluation
Ergonomics programme design
Ergonomics programme implementation
Ergonomics/human factors education
Evaluation of change
Evidence based
Expert witness
Fatigue assessment/management
Hand-arm vibration
Hand-held tools
Hazard management
Health monitoring – discomfort/injury
Health promotion interventions
Human centred design
Human error
Human error prevention
Human factors engineering
Human force/load measurement
Human behaviour
Human capabilities
Human limitations
Human interface design
Human performance
Human variability
Incident/accident investigation
Information processing
Injury prevention interventions
Lighting assessment
Manual handling assessment
Manual handling interventions/programmes
Musculoskeletal disorders/discomfort
Office design
Occupational stress
Occupational overuse
Perceptual demands
Person-machine-environment interface
Physiological performance
Posture/movement analysis/risk assessment
Reliability engineering
Repetitive tasks
Resilience engineering
Risk analysis
Risk assessment
Safety culture
Sedentary work
Scientific writing
Shift work
Situational Awareness
Social sustainability
Socio-technical systems
Standards/codes of practice
Task analysis
Task demands
Task simulation
Transport systems
Thermal environment
Upper limb disorders
Understanding complex systems
Universal design
Usability evaluation
User requirements
User testing
User trials
Visual-spatial performance
Work space layout
Work system analysis
Work system design
Work-life balance
Workload analysis
Workplace assessment
Workplace design
Workstation assessment
Workstation design
Work-rest schedules
Whole body vibration