Ergonomics and Human Factors


Ergonomics is the process of designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems so that they fit the people who use them. Most people have heard of ergonomics and think it is something to do with seating or with the design of car controls and instruments – and it is… but it is so much more. Ergonomics applies to the design of anything that involves people – work-spaces, sports and leisure, health and safety.

Ergonomics (or ‘human factors’ as it is referred to in North America) is a branch of science that aims to learn about human abilities and limitations, and then apply this learning to improve people’s interaction with products, systems and environments. Ergonomics aims to improve work-spaces and environments to minimize risk of injury or harm. So as technologies change, so too does the need to ensure that the tools we access for work, rest and play are designed for our body’s requirements.

Why is Ergonomics important?

In the workplace: According to Safe Work Australia, the total economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses is estimated to be $60 billion dollars. Recent research has shown that lower back pain is the world’s most common work-related disability – affecting employees from offices, building sites and in the highest risk category, agriculture. Ergonomics aims to create safe, comfortable and productive work-spaces by bringing human abilities and limitations into the design of a work-space, including the individual’s body size, strength, skill, speed, sensory abilities (vision, hearing), and even attitudes.

How does ergonomics work?

Ergonomics is a relatively new branch of science which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1999, but relies on research carried out in many other older, established scientific areas, such as engineering, physiology and psychology.

To achieve best practice design, Ergonomists use the data and techniques of several disciplines:

•anthropometry: body sizes, shapes; populations and variations
•biomechanics: muscles, levers, forces, strength
•environmental physics: noise, light, heat, cold, radiation, vibration body systems: hearing, vision, sensations
•applied psychology: skill, learning, errors, differences
•social psychology: groups, communication, learning, behaviours.

Checklist for Office workers

For the office worker, a simple yet effective office ergonomics checklist is developed that anyone can carry out at their workstation, to make sure they’re comfortable, safe and productive at the office.

1. Posture – Activity – Exercise

•Maintain proper posture, paying careful attention to positioning of head, neck/spine, arms/wrists, hips/thighs and feet. Basically, ensure the small of your back is supported, your shoulders relaxed (not slumped, not elevated), and that there is no pressure under your thighs.
•Alternate between different postures on a regular basis.
•When keyboarding, use minimum force while striking the keys.
•Keep a neutral position, where the forearms, wrists and hands are in a straight line.
•Avoid awkward reaching for work tools such as telephone, mouse and reference materials.
•Avoid resting elbows, forearms or wrists on hard surfaces or sharp edges.
•Take frequent mini-breaks throughout the day to give muscles and joints a chance to rest and recover.
•Alternate between work activities which use different muscle groups to avoid overuse.
•Give eyes a break by closing them momentarily, gazing at a distant object and blinking frequently.
•Proper exercises are a complement to a complete office ergonomics program. Consult with us to select appropriate exercises.

2. Lighting – Air – Noise

•Maintain appropriate light levels for specific tasks. More illumination is usually needed to read a document than a computer screen.
•Reduce or eliminate glare by using window shades, diffusers on overhead lighting and anti-glare filters for computers.
•Adjust the contrast and brightness on your computer screen to a comfortable level.
•Get a regular eye exam and if necessary, wear corrective lenses. Tell your eye specialist how often you use the computer.
•Clean the computer screen and other surfaces regularly.
•Reduce the number of dust collecting items like papers and files on your desk.
•If necessary, use a portable air cleaner to reduce airborne particles like dust, pollen and mold.
•Maintain a comfortable temperature by using layers of clothing or a portable fan or heater.
•Be considerate to others working in the area and conduct meetings and conversations in appropriate areas.
•Position fabric partitions to reduce noise from conversations, foot traffic and equipment, like copiers and printers.
•Identify distracting noises and try headphones, ear plugs, soft music or a quiet fan to reduce or mask the noise.

3. Work Style – Organization – Breaks

•Reduce stress by planning ahead and setting realistic expectations for what you can accomplish during the workday.
•Organize your workload to help even out busy and slow times, to avoid feeling “swamped”.
•Vary tasks to make the day more interesting. For example, deliver a message in person instead of phoning.
•Avoid long periods of repetitive activity. For example, alternate computer work with other tasks like phone calls, filing, copying and meetings.
•Organize equipment, supplies and furniture in the most efficient arrangement for daily tasks.
•Enhance privacy by using office partitions and privacy filters for computer screens or documents.
•Acknowledge ideas and accomplishments of co-workers on a regular basis.
•Develop stress reduction and relaxation techniques which work for you at the office and at home.
•Personalize your office with a few favorite items, like artwork, photos and plants.
•Take mini-breaks that re-energize, invigorate and refresh.
•Follow these same ergonomic guidelines at home, in meetings and while travelling.

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