Human Factors in Occupation Safety: Ergonomics

The term ergonomics was derived from Greek words “ergon,” which means work and “nomos,” which means laws in reference to science of work (Meister, 1999). Ergonomics is a discipline of science that deals with the understanding of the interpersonal interactions, in relation to aspects or elements of system(s) humans associate with to ensure their well-being and optimization of the entire system (Salvendy, 2012).

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Ergonomics involves theoretical applications and use of data and methodologies for optimizing well being of humans and the entire system. The tasks of an ergonomist entail contributing to planning processes, evaluation of jobs/organizations, products, working environment, and systems, detection of abilities and limitations, and establishing human-system compatibility with needs (Salvendy, 2012). Ergonomics applies all perspectives of human activities and systems. Therefore, its practice and application requires broad understanding of various disciplines, which applies the physical, social, environmental, and organizational principles among others. Ergonomics is particularly applied in a specific economic sector or application domains that are in constant evolution and mutually exclusive (Salvendy, 2012). In other words, its application entails creation of new application domains and renewal or change of old and existing ones to suit the new perspectives. The application or specialization domains within a specific application discipline provide better competencies in relation to human attributes and interactions. Human Factors in occupation safety are the physical and mental aspect of comfort, fatigue and rest allowance, and reduction or elimination of risks of work related musculoskeletal disorder that applies three specialization domains. These include physical, cognitive, and organizational ergonomics.

Physical ergonomics deals with all aspects of physical activities, which include human anatomy and physiology, anthropometric principles, and biomechanical characteristics (Salvendy, 2012). In this regard, the specific areas of specialization and concern include safety and health, repetitive movement, workplace layout, working postures, material handling, and musculoskeletal disorders that are related to working. Organizational ergonomics focuses on optimizing the social and technical systems that may include the policies, organizational structures, and processes. Its relevant areas of concern are human resource and teamwork management, new work paradigms, organizational culture, crew or workforce and participatory design, virtual organization, designing and management of work and working times, and quality management (Salvendy, 2012). On the other hand, cognitive ergonomics deals with the mental aspects of humans such as reasoning, perception, memory, and other neurologic responses (Salvendy, 2012). The specific areas of concern of cognitive ergonomics are skilled performance, decision-making, mental workload, interaction between man and computer, human reliability, human-system designs and training, work stress, and mental workload.

Ergonomic factors usually arise from simple systems and consumer products. As noted earlier, ergonomics have many application fields such as healthcare, information technology, transport, aeronautics and aerospace, product design, nuclear and virtual environment, and training among others (Bush, 2010). Safety managers apply physical ergonomics, to study work-related injuries and disorders. Their greatest responsibility is to collect data and information related to human-system interactions in order to identify the problematic conditions of jobs or work. This requires them to develop and use the illness and injury logs for storing and analysis of job and medical records. The commonest work related injuries are the disorder of the muscle and skeleton, which may cause pain, loss of function, and disability. In the United States, about 1.8 million workers experience work-related musculoskeletal disorder every year in which about 33% of the casualties develop serious conditions that led them to miss work (Jeffress, 2000). Some workers complain of stain, discomfort, fatigue, and pain. These complains are associated with work requiring intensive and extensive activities, characterized by application of force, repetitive force exertions, frequent and heavy lifting, unusual work positioning, and vibrations. In the United States, the federal body Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensures ergonomics programs and standards are implemented at work.

The philosophy of ergonomics is the achievement of work comfort. The greatest concern of ergonomics is the achievement of all aspects of design effectiveness in which comfort is greatest (Mital, Kilbom & Kumar, 2000). Comfort has massive effect on the human-machine interface and product and service mentality; hence, it is a primary concern in effective design. There are two major forms of comfort in the human-machine interface – physical comfort and mental aspect of comfort (Salvendy & Karwowski, 2012). Physical comfort is how the equipment or the machine pleases the user hence easy to identify. Physical comfort is an aspect of physical ergonomics and very important in enhancing productivity in the human-machine interface. This is because a comfortable equipment or tool allows the user to engage effort in order to operate and give output. On the other hand, if the machine is not pleasing or comfortable, the user may not operate it and it will not produce, then it becomes useless. Therefore, designers should come up with better designs that increase product utility. In this regard, the quality of the design of equipment can be used to determine its actual utility. The utility of a product can be enhanced only if it is made more intuitive and comfortable and this enhances its success at work and in the market. Mental aspects of comfort are also a key factor of ergonomic management, which applies cognitive ergonomics. This can only be determined through monitoring of feedback and the preconceived notion of the product such as it should be comfortable and safe to use, appealing look, durable, and made from quality materials (Gkikas, 2012). In most cases, mental determination is based on safety, quality, and comparison with cost or productivity. Better ergonomics means high level of safety and quality, which makes the product more comfortable and acceptable.

Determining fatigue is also important aspect of work or machine comfort and utilizes concepts of physical and cognitive ergonomics (Salvendy & Karwowski, 2012). Most work generates fatigue. However, it is recommended that workers should only advance state of healthily tired after work and this can only be achieved by giving workers adequate rest allowance. The measure of fatigue level or recovery from fatigue can be measured by examining and directly relating it with rest allowance (Tochihara & Ohnaka, 2005). Rest allowance is an aspect of organization ergonomics. Studies have found out that learners require more resting time during the early days of work than experienced workers do because they get tired early because of lack of adaptability. It is important to determine a natural balance between working and resting time whereby the optimum quantity and quality of work is attained. It is an area of concern because safety managers and industrial ergonomists have not exploited it adequately. Another important consideration is measuring the effort ratings. This involves the assessment of the rate at which an operator is working or producing results/output. Nevertheless, ergonomists have attempted to accurately measure the physiological parameters at work place but unfortunately this has only been achieved in the laboratory. Prospective success is expected through miniaturization of the measuring equipment most probably the portable biosensor. The use of this equipment would allow the determination of physiological rates and standards for working and resting.

The greatest problem in ergonomics is lack of usability measures. For instance, there is no clear methodology for studying the human-system interactions. The studying methods are usually developed according to environment of study and they have major limitations that include the following. They consume more time and resources; requires a lot of efforts to plan, recruit, and implement; and the study design requires examination of many aspects hence massive data is collected, which becomes tiresome to analyze (Gkikas, 2012). It is evident that human Factors in occupation safety applies all the three specialization domains and the relevant areas of concern for safety managers are physical and mental aspect of comfort, fatigue and rest allowance, and reduction or elimination of risks of work related musculoskeletal disorder.

 

References

Bush, P.M. (2010). Ergonomics: Foundational Principles, Applications and Technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

David Meister, D. (1999). The History of Human Factors and Ergonomics. London: Routledge

Gkikas, N. (2012). Automotive Ergonomics: Driver-Vehicle Interaction. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

Jeffress, C.N. (2000). BEACON Biodynamics and Ergonomics Symposium. Farmington, CO: University of Connecticut

Mital, A. Kilbom, Å. & Kumar, S. (2000). Ergonomics Guidelines and Problem Solving. Oxford, UK: Elsevier

Salvendy, G. & Karwowski, W. (2012). Advances in Physical Ergonomics and Safety. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

Salvendy, G. (2012). Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons

Tochihara, Y. & Ohnaka, T. (2005). Environmental Ergonomics: The Ergonomics of Human Comfort, Health, and Performance in the Thermal Environment. Oxford, UK: Elsevier

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