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The Human Factor

Staff satisfaction and wellbeing have taken centre stage in recent years, and nothing is more important to keeping your workforce happy than ergonomics. FMJ examines the latest trends in psychology, engineering and design improving people’s working day, explaining why there is much more to ergonomics than meets the eye

When discussing ergonomics there are few better people to talk to than The Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors. The increasing appreciation of the importance of the discipline can be seen from the fact that the Institute was awarded a Royal Charter on the 3rd of March this year.

charter_sj_45A celebration was held at The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London, attended by the great and the good of the Institute and MP Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for education, who gave the opening address.

Founded over 65 years ago, and still playing a leading role for the profession there are few places to learn about the future of Ergonomics than at such an event. Especially when CIEHF president, Roger Haslam and president elect, Professor Sarah Sharples, provided guests with an overview on the history of the Institute and the role of today’s ergonomists and human factors specialists.

Sharples described ergonomics and human factors as “helping us to design safer workplaces, technologies and systems.” She says that one of the most important parts of an ergonomists job is to prevent accidents and therefore save lives.

She then proceeded to give some fascinating examples of what exactly it is these ergonomists work on and achieve, examples which were a far cry from the stereotype of the person who makes sure that the top of your head lines up with the top of your computer screen.

10,000 FEET

Airbus_A380_BC01_Staggered_LayoutFor example when you think about the daily work of an ergonomist chances are you wouldn’t picture a jumbo jet. But the aviation industry has been revolutionised in recent years by these men and women. The design of air traffic control systems, flight decks and the interior layouts of planes is all now influenced by the advice of human factor experts.

They support the development of the technology that “enables us to manage one of the most crowded areas of airspace in the world, whilst maintaining an exemplary safety record.”

It is ergonomists who ensure that advances in military technology don’t come at the expense of pilots to understand and control the aircraft. Perhaps most importantly for me and you, the evacuation plans, lights and other safety procedures on board passenger aircraft are set up with huge input form ergonomists.


Ergonomists also of course have a massive role to play in minimising the risk of human error across a plethora of industries. For example the UK nuclear industry’s regulations and performance are seen the gold standard in the sector, and a large part of why Britain has never seen a major accident which have afflicted other countries and other sectors. This is in no small part thanks to the understanding, measuring and improving of human reliability undertaken by ergonomists.

Similarly across healthcare ergonomists and human factors specialists are working in partnership with clinicians, managers and IT specialists to ensure a safe and resilient 21st century healthcare system. Much focus has been placed on improving communications between clinicians, ensuring that teams of doctors and nurses work together to make effective decisions and reduce the likelihood of harm. In addition to this important work, many pieces of equipment that we find in a clinical setting, from ambulances, to drips that deliver lifesaving drugs, have been developed and evaluated by human factors experts.

About Sarah OBeirne


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    Unfortunately you can take a camel to water but, not necessarily make it drink without the aid of a couple of bricks and for too many employers this is still the case after three years as they continue there campaign against the introduction of the, now not so new, EU MSD Directive.

    Why ? Simply because it addresses the one thing the 1990 EU directive & 93 UK DSE regulations said on the tin but omitted in it’s contents a “risk assessment of the Display Screen Equipment” itself or more specifically the ergonomics of the display screen interface between human and machine presented data.

    So on it’s Silver Jubilee there is still nothing, in terms of legislation, to enforce the mitigation and prevention of workers having to a. adapt to the equipment and b. continue to suffer from the on-going and debilitating symptoms of “over-exposure” to sub-optimally user operator calibrated screen interface.

    Screen Fatigue and/or CVS (Computer Vision Syndrome as it is known as in the US) has been recognised since the introduction of DSE over 30 years ago and regardless of significantly improved screen technologies from CRT & LCD VDU’s to latest high definition flat and even flexible screen wizardry the operator is still left to cope, tolerate and persevere involuntarily adaptations of their visual system and posture, over time, manifesting in repetitive stress related errors, mishap or harm and injury founded in fatigue due to over-exposure to sub-optimally yet, easily individually optimised display screen interface.

    Perhaps, we will just have to out wait the employers as, for the 58% (HSE Better Display Screen RR 561 2007) of UK user operators, the EU MSD Directive cannot come soon enough…………….

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