MAKING THINGS EFFECTIVE
But of course ergonomists have an impact on our everyday lives as well, not just on the latest and most cutting edge industries.
Professor Sharples says that “Ergonomics and human factors has at its heart the consideration of the wellbeing of the human operator. As well as the societal and ethical need to ensure that people at work are comfortable, healthy and happy, there is economic value to ensuring that our workforce is working in safe conditions.”
In the workplace, ergonomics and human factors improves workplaces by developing tools that support the design of comfortable tasks that reduce discomfort and make injury and sickness absence less likely.
“Ergonomics research is behind the regulations that have been implemented nationally to ensure the design of safe workplaces,” continues Sharples, “and this work continues, as our workplaces evolve from the desktop and traditional factory environment to mobile and active work systems and as automation continues to be introduced into factories of the future.”
Outside of the office, or wherever it is that you happen to be working these days, we can still see the impact of ergonomics. From the design of supermarket checkouts to the markings on emergency service vehicles, ergonomists fingerprints can be found wherever you wish to look.
MAKING THINGS USABLE
Ergonomics and human factors isn’t just devoted to making things safe and usable however, it also has a massive role to play in ensuring things are usable.
“Eleven million people in the UK are over 65,” Sharples explains. “For those people, usability is not only something that leads to them finding a product less frustrating to use, it can save their lives. Currently almost a quarter of adults aged 75 plus struggle with using blister pack medications. Ergonomists have been involved in helping to design accessible medicine packaging, considering the way in which drugs companies label medicine, and ensuring that we have knowledge about the strength and dexterity of older adults.
“Human factors helps us to travel and navigate through our increasingly complex worlds. The UK motorway signage is held up as a beacon of excellent design; human factors specialists have also helped to ensure that technology based road signage is developed to be usable and understandable, helping our crowded road networks to be as efficient as they possibly can be.
“Human factors is at the heart of the user experience. We think beyond safety, effectiveness and usability to the pleasure and experience of interacting with products, and using products to enhance our lives.”
“All ergonomists and human factors practitioners build on our specialist knowledge from disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, design and psychology and take a systems approach,” Professor Sharples explains. “This means that whether we are supporting the design of nuclear control rooms, or evaluating the risks associated with a manual handling task, we consider people within their wider work contexts.
“People form groups, and these groups are based within physical, social and legal settings. Ergonomists need to be able not only to understand the specifics of an interaction between one person and one interface, but also to be able to predict the impact of making a small change to a single device on the overall system.
“Ergonomists and human factors specialists work with users. Users participate in the design of new systems and workplaces, and through the skills of ergonomists, their needs are translated into language that can influence design at an early stage, saving money and leading to more successful new products.”
Henry Ford is reputed to have said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But, as ergonomists, we know that users are themselves experts in how jobs and tasks are done, and how organisations really work. As ergonomists, we know that if, indeed, we were to simply ask people what they would like, they may indeed request ‘a faster horse’, but the way that we are trained to understand users and evaluate their behaviour and performance enables us to work with them to see beyond their instinctive request and, for us together, to develop exciting new systems of the future.”
So what challenges will the ergonomist of the future face in order to keep making such a difference to people’s lives?
One of the biggest is apparently the ageing population. Sharples explains: “As the proportion of older adults amongst us increases, it is vital that the systems we use to enable us to travel, work and live accommodate as many of our needs as possible.
“An ergonomics and human factors approach is essential to ensure that we are able to remain in our own homes, retain personal mobility and stay healthy and happy for as long into our lives as possible.”
Then there is the impact of technology starting to take over so many roles previously filled by human beings.
“Autonomy in systems is increasing. Some of our trains are already driverless, in the next 20 years we will confront the reality of driverless cars and planes.
“We hear many concerns about the safety of these systems and the data associated with their operation. Ergonomists and human factors specialists will work with technologists, engineers and policy makers to ensure that these developments lead to safety and economic benefits, making our world an accessible and mobile place.”
Add to this the confusion as to what will actually constitute the workplace in the future and it will be easy to see why ergonomists, already so prevalent, will only become more important in the years to come.