what’s ergonomics?

So you may have found your way to this site, and are wondering, what is ergonomics or human factors? The terms ergonomics and human factors tend to be used interchangeably, but usually a specific industry will settle on one or the other. The best concise definition I have come across is 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 in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. International Ergonomics Association

Practitioners of ergonomics and human factors contribute to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people.


Ergonomics or human factors engineering is about designing for people. Ergonomics ensures that a design complements the strengths and physical and mental abilities of people and minimises the effects of their limitations, not forcing them to adapt. The human aspect of ergonomics, includes topics such as:

  • Anatomy & Physiology – Ranging from vision, hearing, nervous system to muscles, bones.
  • Anthropometrics – Body size, human variance, use of percentiles, user populations. It is important to have knowledge of the varying sizes and shapes, to optimise human interaction and performance (read more).
  • Biomechanics – Relates to gait, posture, kinesiology (movement), to provide ranges of motion, aids in the consideration of strength data, push and pull forces.
  • Psychology – Perception, attention, human needs, memory.
  • Human Reliability – Use in high hazard industries has demonstrated the importance of considering human error. The reliability is with which a task is performed.


Human factors and ergonomics topics also relate to machines or products and their interfaces, which includes topics such as:

human machine interface - human factors and ergonomics blog - ergonomi

  • Controls & Displays – From ergonomic specifications for input devices through to 3D displays. Ergonomic criteria such as shape, size, spacing and compatibility with the target population.
  • Accessibility defines the relative ease with which a component can be reached for inspection, service repair or replacement.
  • Maintainability is the ease of keeping a machine, or restoring it to, readiness and availability. Dependant on accessibility of parts, internal and external configuration, use, and repair environment, as well as the time, tools and training skills required for maintenance.
  • Workspace Design – Layouts of workspaces and individual workstation design, to ensure the limiting user (smallest to largest) is considered for reach, clearance, posture and vision.
  • Human – Computer Interaction (HCI) – Is the design of computer interfaces to make sure that they effectively and efficiently support people performing tasks.
  • User Interface Design – To optimise a user interface the system must be clear intuitive, simple and adaptive. It is important that a user interface provides visibility of system status and simple error handling, prevention, recognition and recovery.
  • Usability – Considers ease of use, learnability, efficiency, intuitiveness, errors and satisfaction.
  • Alarms and Warnings – Some high risk industries user interface design also includes defining how alarms and warnings will be displayed to the user, classification, grouping and prioritisation of alarms.
  • User Experience (UX) – Involves a person’s behaviours, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. It includes assessment of a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. Through iterative user-centred design, user journeys, personas, website specifications and more…


As humans we interact with the environment in which we live. Human factors engineering and ergonomics includes topics such as:

  • Health & SafetyThe Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees and anyone who may be affected by their work. slips trips and falls, manual handling (lifting, carrying team handling), use of personal protective equipment,
  • Environmental Tolerance and Assessment -Human tolerances to theenvironmentandthe assessment of the environment:
    • Thermal environment including hot or cold surfaces, heat and cold stress, thermal comfort. Why not read my article on thermal comfort.
    • Noise – There is no completely safe noise exposure, and the maximum permitted exposure is a compromise between the risk of hearing loss and the difficulty in reducing noise exposure. Why not read my post on noise assessment.
    • Lighting – The overall design aim is to provide lighting that enables user tasks to be carried out safely, effectively and efficiently. In addition, addressing subjective factors such as the aesthetics of light and lighting that can affect human performance and well-being. Why not read my post on lighting assessment.
    • Toxicity – There are many materials used in the workplace that can be hazardous. However, in order for them to affect your health, they must contact the body or be absorbed into the body. The Health and Safety Executive has guidance on the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.
    • RadiationIonising Radiations occurs as either electromagnetic rays (such as X-rays) or particles (such as alpha and beta particles). It occurs naturally from the radioactive decay of natural radioactive substances such as radon gas. But can also be produced artificially.
    • Shock and Vibration – Vibration is any sustained mechanical oscillatory disturbance, whereas shock or jolt is a transient mechanical disturbance. Long term exposure to vibration can result in Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome or Vibration White Finger. Why not read my post on the human response to vibration.

Social – Organisational

As part of the wider environment is the social aspects of human factors and ergonomics. This could be posts about a range of ‘social’ topics, such as:

  • Job Design – Job analysis is the process of investigating and evaluating jobs, including tasks, procedures, responsibilities and personal attributes of the job holder.
  • Workload – Either physical or cognitive (mental). High workload may lead to fatigue, increases in error and decreases in overall performance. Why not read my article on workload assessment.
  • Socio-Organisational – Consideration of factors such as communication, work structures, teams and team working, shift working (with factors such as circadian rhythm).
  • Training & Manning – Training Need Analysis (Operational Task Analysis (OTA), Difficulty Importance Frequency (DIF), Training Options Analysis (TOA), Training Gap Analysis (TGA), competencies, manning trends and concepts.
  • Procedure / Instruction Design – Consideration of procedures and instructions.

Recommended Reading Links:

A collection of interesting (possibly useful) links on human factors, ergonomics and engineering. Note that ergonomicsblog.uk is not responsible for any content appearing on linked websites. Found a cool new link? Please contact me. 

You can read my top 10 ergonomic reads here, or following links will link you directly to the relevant Amazon page:

Human Engineering Links:

Institutes & Societies:

Industry Related Links:

Education Links:

Other Blogs: