07 3040 5790     info@vivahealthgroup.com.au

The Application & Value of Human Factors & Ergonomics

The value of a human factors and ergonomics practice deserves examination. The methods can help a business elevate their programs beyond “injury prevention” toward “invention”.  Ergonomics, generally, is poorly understood and under-represented (Dul et al, 2012; Hedge, 2015; Reegård et al, 2015; and Wilson, 1994).

The competencies of a certified professional ergonomist (CPE) are assessed in areas of physical, cognitive and organisational ergonomics and the practitioner must have some understanding of all realms. The scope of intervention is broad and may innovate staid work practices. The work pays dividends (Burgess-Limerick, 2010; Dul & Neuman, 2009; Stanton & Baber, 2003; and Tompa et al, 2007) and leads to a culture of innovation (e.g. Pazell et al, 2016a) so if the approach looks a little different to that with which you may be accustomed, it likely is. Examples of the application of human factors ergonomics are provided below.

For the safety managers, a certified professional ergonomist may enhance the following:

Incident investigation

  • For example, a human factors approach to incident investigation in aviation can shift a narrow, stilted view of “human error” toward a broader understanding of the design and interface of a pilot and their technology (distributed situation awareness), hazards unrecognized, hazards foreseen but for which one may be inadequately prepared to address, demands of a task, mechanisms for control interface, and possible tactics in a situation (O’Hare, 2000). A simplified 5-Why, or root cause analysis, is often inadequate to provide a comprehensive understanding of contributing factors.

Hazard identification and record keeping

  • The human-centred approach may shift the practice of maintaining generic hazard registers, containing copious lists too voluminous from which to understand priority actions to be undertaken, toward the development of a library of contextualised task-based analysis from which customised intervention may be determined.
  • A certified professional ergonomist designed and developed a smart-phone application for screening and measurement of whole body vibration so that spontaneous, accessible measurements and baseline data may be recorded and examined (Burgess-Limerick & Lynas, 2015).

Risk determination

  • Risk management and assessment techniques may be incredibly diverse (e.g. refer to BS EN 31010:2010), as they should, to permit custom application to an organisation and an incident or event type. The human factors practitioner may advise a suitable means to conduct comprehensive assessment of probability and severity of an event. If your organisation has adhered to the application of standard 5 x 5 risk matrices to evaluate all manner of incidents, it may be time to refresh this thinking.

Job safety analyses and safe work method statements

  • A human factors method can refresh these documents to convey the most relevant material and leverage instructions and work methods beyond a complacent reliance upon human-behaviour to blame or shame under the scope of measurement of safe work practice.

Safety in design

  • Human-centred design, through participatory work practice, transforms safety in design to good work design in which workers are involved, engaged, and inspired, and the duty holder discharges its duty to consult workers (under the Australian work health and safety legislation) as it is inherent in a human factors participative ergonomics approach.

Targeted campaigns for risk reduction 

  • For example, a Queensland mining operation established lead indicators to target work design improvement for biomechanics and safe handling and, as such, markedly reduced sprain / strain and hand injuries (Pazell et al, 2016a).
  • Certified professional ergonomists developed and designed a cloud-based risk and project management software system to tackle work-related musculoskeletal disorders (refer: www.ergoanalyst.com )

Critical event analysis, design, and resilience engineering

  • For example, a human factors approach to road safety was employed to review driving, analyse task components, and conduct psychological road audits with driver-centric narratives during task simulation. The results included the identification of potential road design deficiencies with suggestions for improvement (Horberry et al, 2014a). 
  • Simulation, visualisation, and animation is aligned with human factors and ergonomics. For example, the modelling of work systems, predictive analytics, and risk modelling, for graduated training in high-risk industries where working away from the natural environment initially provides for a safe learning space; event recreation and forensics; discrete simulation for decision making aligned with organisational ergonomics to determine work flow and system support; or design and fabrication methods with immersive visual and haptic (touch/feel) sensory integration.

For procurement teams:

Specifications for procurement 

  • A human-centred predictive design review of capital equipment can identify hazards previously unforeseen or under-reported and inform design strategies that accommodate a diverse and inclusive workforce for optimum productivity, performance, health, and safety (e.g. Pazell et al, 2016b).
  • The integration of safe design throughout the supply chain is well supported when specifications are included in supplier agreements for manufacturers, designers, and suppliers for evidence of human factors practice underpinning their work (E.g. Transport of New South Wales, 2015).

For engineering design teams:

Digital human-modelling, anthropometrics, and understanding of biomechanics and the structural interplay of dynamic functional movement patterns

  • Driver ingress and egress techniques, favoured hand positions, or stereotypic tactics based on body stature, can be examined to inform design strategy for heavy vehicles in the transportation industry (e.g. Reed et al, 2010a; and Reed et al, 2010b).
  • An ergonomist’s study of approaches to ladder use informed the revision of Australian Standard 1657:2013: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways, and ladders – Design, construction, and installation, with recommendations for a hierarchical approach to selection and design of ladders to reduce the likelihood of falls (Workplace Access and Safety®, 2012)

User-centred framework for design consideration

  • Human-centred design improves risk determination and business strategy, change readiness, and design philosophy (Horberry & Burgess-Limerick, 2015; and Horberry et al, 2014b) to provide for a productive, engaged, healthful, and safe workforce. For example, the design of mobile mining equipment (e.g. Burgess-Limerick et al, 2012; Horberry et al, 2010; and Horberry et al, 2011) and medical equipment (USFDA, 2015) has been improved through application of human factors methods.

For architects and interior designers:

Green Star Ergonomics Credit for Office Interiors (Green Building Council of Australia)

  • The requirement to achieve a green star ergonomics credit for office interior includes the engagement of a certified professional ergonomist to verify that the equipment and space is designed to provide comfort to users, with minimal risk for stress and injury. 

Integration of environmental sustainability and worker health

  • An ergonomist presented the benefits of design for sustainability and worker health (e.g. Well Building Institute® initiatives) through workplace interior design, profiling the Medibank Docklands project, Melbourne, Victoria, in an online seminar hosted by Green Building Council of Australia (Pazell, 2015a).

For human resources, health, and wellness coordinators:

Provide for a foundation for wellness programming

  • Too often, workplace wellness programs attract participants who are already actively engaged in their own fitness, health, and well-being initiatives, and miss the most vulnerable, at-risk, and in-need population. A task-based approach to work analysis is a specialty skill of the ergonomist. The analysis can reveal improvement opportunity in task (re)design to help prioritise the health and wellness of workers in a manner that is aligned with business strategy and meaningful to workers. The absence of an ergonomics program while also trying to conduct wellness programs may result in workers feeling like the organisation is applying band-aid solutions, demanding their behaviour-change, rather than investing organisational resource and commitment to support their needs (Henning et al, 2009; and Karanika-Murray & Weyman, 2013).

Justify wellness initiatives

  • When a wellness campaign is launched, such as a “get moving and stay active” initiative, the certified professional ergonomist can provide evidence-based findings and recommendations as to how to effectively integrate campaign activities within a framework of traditional safety management, thereby elevating the concern for risk management.

Describe job tasks and inherent work demands

  • A job and/or task analysis is an essential precursor to re/design activity, but also it may aid recruitment, job description development, and the information provides for a baseline of rehabilitation and return to work planning.

For operations, production, and total quality management managers:

Human factors methods provide value and pay dividends

  • There is money to be saved, efficiency to be gained, and profitability to be achieved through human factors and ergonomics processes (e.g. Burgess-Limerick et al, 2011; Cantley et al, 2014; Dul & Neumann, 2009; Pazell et al, 2016c; and Stanton & Baber, 2003).

For legal teams:

Good corporate citizenship argument

  • Arguing the status of good corporate citizenship can be a defensive strategy to mitigate sentencing if an adverse event arises in the workplace (Girle, 2017). If a business maintains a case library of good work design, complete with transparent explanation and easy-to-interpret examples, their positive profile is readily enhanced during workplace investigation.

For health care managers:

Widespread improvement may be realised with the application of human factors methods

  • For example, medication management (e.g. Russ et al, 2014); patient care handling, surgical procedures (e.g. Horberry et al, 2014c), education and training (e.g. Zupanc et al, 2015) and design of facilities.

For the learning and development teams:

Competency framework

  • A human factors study of an essential task can create a useful taxonomy to classify and understand competency requirements, including considerations of knowledge, skills,abilities, distributed situation awareness, heuristics, decision‐making, tactics, and inter- and intra‐personal dynamics (e.g. Zupanc et al, 2015).

Simulation and visualisation, and immersive training experiences

  • (as aforementioned in this paper)

For the board of directors:

Significant gains may be realised for sustainability, inclusivity, and diversity

  • Refer to: Human-Centred Organisations. ISO Standard 27500:2016, and emerging practice in “green ergonomics” (e.g. Thatcher, 2013).

Ergonomics is NOT (only) about the issuance of a device to find comfort at a computer workstation. A skilled practitioner is unlikely to recommend that a worker sits erect and upright to maintain 90-degree flexion of the elbow, hip, and knee at their workstation. That is not sustainable, natural, or comfortable for most people. An activity-based design strategy provides for the understanding that people need focused thinking space, collaborative meeting areas, standing and movement options, retreat space, and social interaction (referred to as, “solo-team-drive-recharge-converge” design strategy, Pazell, 2015b)

Ergonomics is NOT about “lifting with a straight back” while you work and teaching “improved manual handling approaches” (in fact that doesn’t work, see Burgess-Limerick, 2016). Ergonomics is NOT injury management. It provides a design-based strategy for good work (re)design.

Human factors / ergonomics is a process, not a product (Hedge & Pazell, 2016). 

If the opportunity presents to work with a certified professional ergonomist as an advisor to your teams, I recommend that you fully embrace their potential to advise and manage programs. Do not assume their scope of work as that may limit the potential benefits to be gained. Instead, sit down, establish a meeting, review business strategies, perceived barriers, and opportunities, and permit their skilled advice to help determine a scope of strategic intervention. If your organisation needs innovation and improvement, then a change of approach must be significant and human-centred. Human factors and ergonomics has much to offer when the scope of practice is fully examined. 

Sara Pazell, BAppSci(OT), MBA, PhD, CPE, is the principal work design strategist in a consultancy practice that she pioneered (www.vivahealthgroup.com.au). She is affiliated with several Australian universities and service, product, or training organisations. These opinions reflect no other organisation with whom Sara has an affiliation; the ideas, concepts, and opinions are wholly Sara’s (influenced, of course, by the many scholars and teachers from whom Sara has been blessed to learn and sometimes wrangle with intellectually).

Australian Standards (2013). AS 1657:2013: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation.

Burgess-Limerick, R. (2016). Evidence for the Work-relatedness of Musculoskeletal Disorders. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/evidence-work-relatedness-msds-robin-burgess-limerick

Burgess-Limerick, R. & Lynas, D. (2015). An iOS application for evaluation whole-body vibration within a workplace risk management process. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 12, 137 – 142.

Burgess-Limerick, R., Joy, J., Cooke, T., & Horberry, T. (2012). EDEEP – An innovative process for improving the safety of mining equipment. Minerals, 2, 272 – 282.

Burgess-Limerick, R., Cotea, C., Pietrzak, E., & Fleming, P. (2011). Human systems integration in defence and civilian industries. In Australian Defence Force Journal, 186, 51 – 50.

Burgess-Limerick, R. (2010). Human Systems Integration is Worth the Money and Effort! The Argument for the Implementation of Human Systems Integration Processes in Defence Capability Acquisition.  Department of Defence: Commonwealth of Australia.

Cantley, L. F., Taiwo, O. A., Galusha, D., Barbour, R., Slade, M. D., Tessier-Sherman, B., & Cullen, M., R. (2014). Effect of systemic ergonomic hazard identification and control implementation on musculoskeletal disorder and injury risk. Scandanavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health, 40 (1), 57 – 65.

Dul, J., Bruder, R., Buckle, P., Carayon, P., Falzone, P., Marras, W. S., Wilson, J. R. & van de Doelen, B. (2012). A strategy for human factors/ergonomics: developing the discipline and profession, In Ergonomics, 55 (4), 377 – 395.

Dul, J., & Neumann, W. P. (2009). Ergonomic contributions to company strategies, In Applied Ergonomics, 40, 745 – 752.

ErgoAnalyst: A Scientific Approach to Ergonomics. http://ergoanalyst.com.au/

Girle, A. (2017). Personal communication with S Pazell during the Safety Institute of Australia Visions Conference 2017, Toowoomba, Qld, 22 May 2017.

Hedge, A., & Pazell, S. (2016). Chapter 21: Ergonomics and wellness in workplaces, Part 3: Emerging ergonomic workplace design issues, In Hedge, A. (Ed.). Ergonomic Workplace Design for Health, Wellness, and Productivity. CRC Press: Florida.

Hedge, A. (13 Oct 2015). Personal anecdote with S Pazell in review of ergonomics and health interventions. Email communication.

Henning, R., Warren, N., Robertson, M., Faghri, P., and Cherniack (2009). Workplace health protection and promotion through participatory ergonomics: An integrated approach, In Public Health Reports (1974 – ), Supplement 1: Occupational Interventions, 124, 26 – 35.

Horberry, T., & Burgess-Limerick, R. (2015). Applying a human-centred process to re-design equipment and work environments. Safety, 1, 7 – 15. doi:10.3390/safety1010007

Horberry, T., Fernández, P. G., Ventsislavova-Petrova, P., & Castro, C. (2014a). Psychological road audits: Background, development, and initial findings. Ergonomics Australia, 6 (1), 1 – 6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289307065_Psychological_road_audits_Background_Development_and_Initial_Findings

Horberry, T., Burgess-Limerick, R., Storey, N., Thomas, M., Ruschena, L., Cook, M., & Pettitt, C. (2014b). A User-Centred Safe Design Approach to Control. In Safety Institute of Australia, The Core Body of Knowledge for Generalist OHS Professionals. Tullamarine, VIC: Safety Institute of Australia.

Horberry, T., Teng, Yi-C., Ward, J., Patil, V., & Clarkson, P. J. (2014c). Guidewire retention following central venous catheterisation: A human factors and safe design investigation. International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, 26, 23 – 37.

Horberry, T., Burgess-Limerick, R., & Steiner, L. J. (2011).  Human Factors for the Design, Operation, and Maintenance of Mining Equipment. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Horberry, T., Burgess-Limerick, R., & Steiner, L. (2010). Human Factors for the Design, Operation and Maintenance of Mining Equipment. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, USA.

International Standards Organisation (ISO) (2016). Human-Centred Organisations. ISO Standard 27500:2016.

International Standards Organisation (ISO) (2009). Risk management: Risk assessment techniques. ISO Standard 31010:2009.

Karanika-Murray, M., & Weyman, A. K. (2013). Optimising workplace interventions for health and well-being, In International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 2, (6), 104 – 117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM11-2011-0024.

O’Hare, D. (2000) The ‘Wheel of Misfortune’: a taxonomic approach to human factors in accident investigation and analysis in aviation and other complex systems, Ergonomics, 43 (12), 2001-2019.

Pazell, S., Burgess-Limerick, R., Horberry, T., Dennis, G., & Wakeling, C. (2016a). RIO TINTO WEIPA: The value proposition of good work design. Human Factors Ergonomics Association of Australia HFESA 2016 Annual Conference Proceedings, November 2016: Gold Coast, QLD. http://ergonomics.uq.edu.au/HFESA_2016_proceedings/Blank_files/Pazell2.pdf

Pazell, S., Burgess-Limerick, R., & Horberry, T. & Davidson, P. (2016b). Human-centred design in civil road construction: Methods to inform procurement and improve performance. (presented at SIA Visions, 14 – 15 July 2016). Journal of Safety & Health Research and Practice, 8(1), 3 – 14. https://sia.org.au/downloads/Journal_HSRP/Vol_8/JHSRP_Vol8Issue1_Final.pdf

Pazell, S., Burgess-Limerick, R., & Horberry, T., (2016c). Case study: Process and outcome review of a participative ergonomics project in an asphalt production plant. Human Factors Ergonomics Association of Australia HFESA 2016 Annual Conference Proceedings, November 2016: Gold Coast, QLD. https://www.ergonomics.org.au/documents/item/80

Pazell, S. (2015a). Online seminar presentation: Design of work for health: A human-centred design perspective, hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Healthy and Active Living Day Webinar, with Rebecca Hosking of Medibank Private Docklands: 12 Nov 2015.

Pazell, S. (2015b). Human-centred workplace interior design strategies, discussion with Viva! Health at Work team members (also presented 4 May 2016 for USC 3rd year occupational therapy students).

Reed, M. P., Hoffman, S. G., & Ebert-Hamilton, S. M. (2010a). The influence of heavy truck egress tactics on ground reaction force. Proceedings of the 2010 International Conference on Fall Prevention and Protection. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, WV.

Reed, M. P., Hoffman, S. G., & Ebert-Hamilton, S. M. (2010b). Hand positions and forces during truck ingress. Proceedings of the 2010 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. Santa Monica, CA.

Reegård, K., Rindahl, G., & Drøivoldsmo, A. (2015). Strengthening the HF/E value proposition: Introducing the Capability Approach. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Vol. 2015-, 1192 – 1196.

Russ, A. L., Zillich, A. J., Melton, B. L., Russell, S. A., Chn, S., Spina, J. R., Weiner, W., Johnson, E. G., Daggy, J. K., McManus, M. S., Hawsey, J., M., Puelo, A. G., Doebbeling, B., N., & Saleem, J. J. (2014). Applying human factors principles to alert design increases efficiency and reduces prescribing errors in a scenario-based simulation. Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, 21, 287 – 296.

Stanton, N. A., & Baber, C. (2003). Editorial: On the cost-effectiveness of ergonomics. Applied Ergonomics, 34, 407 – 411.

Thatcher, A. (2013). Green ergonomics: Definition and scope. Ergonomics, 56 (3), 389 – 398.

Tompa, E., Dolinschi, R., de Oliveira, C. & Irvin, E. (2007). A systematic review of OHS interventions with economic evaluations, Vol 1. Institute for Work & Health. https://www.iwh.on.ca/system/files/sys-reviews/sys_review_econ_eval_vol1_2007.pdf

Transport for New South Wales: Transport Assets Standards Authority. (2015, 22 August). Human Factors Integration – General Requirements: T MU HF 00001 ST. Accessed 15 September 2015: http://www.asa.transport.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/asa/asa-standards/t-mu-hf-00001-st.pdf

USFDA (2016). Human Factors and Medical Devices. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/HumanFactors/ Page Last Updated: 02/02/2016 

Workplace Access and Safety® (2012). AS1657 – changes to Australia’s biggest fall prevention standard. (Presented at 19th Triennial Congress of the International Ergonomics Association, 2015: Melbourne, Vic).

Zupanc, C. M., Burgess-Limerick, R., Hill, A., Riek, S., Wallis, G. M., Plooy, A., M., Horswill, M. S., Watson, M. O., & Hewett, D. G. (2015). A competency framework for colonoscopy training derived from cognitive task analysis and expert review. BMC Medical Education, 15, 216 – , 1 – 11.