Impact and challenges of our profession
CIEHF President (2017-18) Claire Dickinson answers questions about the profession, its challenges and its future
1. How big a part will human factors professionals and ergonomists play in boosting the UK's economy this year?
Our underlying economy is strong, but unsettled by what the future will
look like outside the European Union. By ‘Designing for People’, which
is the essential principle embraced by the discipline, human factors can
make a major contribution to better work and life. Human factors
practitioners are contributing to the way in which our manufacturing
sector can increase efficiency and produce more desirable outputs, and
by doing so attract further investment into UK manufacturing.
Ergonomists are beginning to see their contribution recognised within
the healthcare sector, especially in improving the design of medical
devices. Introducing more imaginative ways of doing things and new
approaches can make life better, longer and stronger. And in transport,
human factors continues to contribute to safer, faster, more accessible
rail travel in particular. So, manufacturing, healthcare and transport,
three sectors using human factors information and practitioners that are
benefiting society and human wellbeing.
2. What is the
biggest impact ergonomics and human factors is making in UK society and
what excites you about ergonomics and human factors developments in the
I think society as a whole is much more aware
of good design and the introduction of new technology. It's the feeling
you get when things work well, first time, every time, and the joy you
can feel when the design of something has clearly taken you, the user,
into account. This plays into our hands to a great effect - given that
ergonomics and human factors majors on researched, elegant, intuitive,
imaginative ways of doing everyday things. Ergonomics is also about
improving the way people interact with work equipment and new technology
to keep us safe. And how we meet the challenges of the environment -
dealing with new computerised systems, crowds, designing better signage,
and ways of remaining secure. All of these examples improve human
wellbeing, contribute to society’s ability to live better, more
comfortably, more efficiently and safer. This is what excites me most.
3. What does the future hold of the profession?
We need to shout loud and hard about this science-based discipline to
those in adjacent orbits: psychology, engineering, architecture,
designers, facilities management, and show how impactful ergonomics and
human factors can be. By doing that, we will grow in numbers, and by
doing that we will differentiate more clearly what ergonomics and human
factors delivers. Our standards too will need to reflect that society
has moved increasingly toward specialisation of roles, whilst we as a
body continue to reinforce the value of breadth. We will need to work
hard to ensure that as a profession we recognise this potential
conflict, which I believe we can recognise as the opportunity it is.
4. What’s the main challenge ergonomics and human factors professionals face right now?
Demonstrating the contribution of the profession to those who are as
yet unconvinced. This will take investment, in time, reach, enthusiasm
and patience. But, done well, this will reap significant rewards for
those prepared to make that investment.
5. How does the
work of British ergonomics and human factors professionals compare with
the world and what can we learn from other countries?
were the first emerging and are presently the fourth largest community
of human factors specialists in the world. We operate in an
industrialised society, as do the communities in the US, Canada and
Australia who are ahead of us in population size and consequently
membership numbers. The challenges in the industrialised societies are
similar, the imperatives in the industrialising societies are rather
different. We have learned, and can learn, from both, and there is a
rich network for doing so, but my feeling is that we also have much to
learn from the communities of user-experience design and broader design
community closer to home.
6. What are the main priorities for you as CIEHF president?
First, an emphasis on doing: focussing on a handful of focused,
specific activities that are linked to real opportunities in our
environment. We are planning a second edition of 'The Human Connection',
our case studies publication. We are looking at the development of
training courses to advance progress through our membership gradings and
also to the public, interested in learning what “ergonomically
designed” really means. Second, support and encouragement for
practitioners and members, promoting the benefits of their work.
Ergonomists can be the difference in something being technically
possible and something that is defined as essential and well-used - we
need to celebrate this and promote this more strongly. And third, to
engage members on a task and finish basis, contributing to short-term
projects that pay off in a very tangible way. I think focus in those
three areas will bring the dividends that would make me proud of my
7. Can you name a current large-scale project where ergonomics and human factors could make an impact and why?
We are seeing a renaissance of Infrastructure projects in the UK -
Thames Tideway Tunnel, Crossrail, HS2, Northern Hub, road investment,
EDF's new nuclear power stations at Hinckley Point C, Sizewell C and
Bradwell. Such projects create thousands of new jobs and this includes
Ergonomists/Human Factors practitioners involved in the design of the
infrastructure and operational design of the future.