When it comes to the monitor, as well as the physical characteristics
of the display such as how clear it is, how large the icons and text
are, there is the software itself to consider. When we design computer
programs, we use another branch of ergonomics called cognitive
ergonomics. This considers how we perceive, understand and respond to
information presented to us. In this case, when it’s applied to software
used on a computer, it’s called Human-Computer Interaction or HCI.
HCI includes the appearance of everything you see on the screen,
together with what happens when you press a key on your keyboard, or
click a mouse button. The size, shape and colour of screen graphics, the
design of icons, the position and format of menus, should all help us
to achieve what we want to do, and not make us frustrated because
they’re not logical or don’t do what we’d expect. And designing to tried
and tested standards helps to ensure consistency so that we can use
what we learn in one program, in another, without having to start from
There’s also the environmental aspects to consider – the temperature,
noise and lighting. Whilst you may not find all these just right for
you all the time, research helps us to design workplaces with certain
temperature, noise and lighting ranges that suit most people – for the
type of work they are doing. And that’s an important consideration. In
an office, you’ll probably be sat down for much of the day, you need it
to be fairly quiet so you can concentrate on what you’re doing, and you
need to be able to see your screen and paperwork clearly. If you had a
more physically demanding job, like working in a storeroom, you’d need
the temperature to be lower because you’d be generating your own heat.
You may not need so much light and you might not be bothered about the
amount of noise around you.
Ergonomics is used to apply knowledge from the engineering
disciplines covering user preferences concerning lighting, ventilation,
temperature and noise. Knowledge from environmental psychology is also
used to design aesthetically pleasing work environments providing a
sense of space and privacy while also optimising team working and
Poorly designed indoor work environments account for a 3% reduction
in productivity on average. The term “Sick Building Syndrome” is used to
describe a building in which a significant proportion (more than 20%)
of building occupants report illness perceived to be building related.
Symptoms include respiratory, skin, nerve and nasal problems and also
complaints about odours. Providing a sense of control over heating,
cooling, ventilation and noise can positively impact productivity.
The workspace arrangements inside an office building can also affect
productivity and effective collaboration. Human Factors studies are
often conducted to assess workflow including:
- How specific individuals, teams and work groups collaborate
- The specific work tasks performed within different job roles to
identify the need for task specific work spaces and how they should be
- How information is exchanged and communicated
- How to ensure that critical knowledge is communicated correctly, completely, clearly and concisely
Work-related psychosocial risks concern aspects of the design and
management of work and its social and organisational contexts that have
the potential for causing psychological or physical harm (e.g.
work-related stress, workplace violence, harassment and bullying).
Effectively managing work-related stress can positively impact
leadership, productivity, innovation, health, wellbeing and safety.
An Ergonomics and Human Factors Specialist assesses these hazards in
the context of specific roles and how organisational factors (processes,
procedures, shift patterns etc.), the workplace and environment, the
tools and technology and personal characteristics affects task
Psychosocial risk management has been identified as an important
challenge for organisations, particular during difficult economic times.
However, there are also other challenges that require the application of human factors and ergonomics including:
- Managing sustainable organisational change in difficult economic times
- Multi-factorial risks (e.g. call centers: combined effects of poor
ergonomics design and excessive organizational, mental or emotional
- Complexity of new mobile and collaborative technologies, new work
processes for virtual team working and human-machine interfaces leading
to increased mental and emotional strain
- Poor design of the human machine interface in new technologies
requiring high hand force application and high repetition in awkward
postures for operation
- Mobile workforce travel security and risk management
- Prevention of Cyber Attacks on the mobile technology that employees use
Now we come to ‘organisational ergonomics’. This is where we look at
aspects of the work itself, such as workloads, team work, and work flow.
Can everyone cope with the amount and type of work they’ve got? Do they
need help from other people, or more training perhaps? Do they have the
right tools for the job such as a certain computer program, filing
system, or a telephone headset?
We also use ergonomics to help us with health and safety aspects. We
have guidelines for lifting weights (like boxes of paper, water-cooler
bottles, files, etc), and research helps us to understand how people
react in emergencies, so that we have effective evacuation procedures in
place, for example.
So next time you’re in the office, take a look at all the ergonomics around you!