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Ergonomics, according to the International Ergonomics Association (IEA), 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." [1]

Ergonomic research is primarily performed by ergonomists, who study human capabilities in relationship to their work demands. Information derived from ergonomists contribute "to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people." [1]

The field is also called human engineering, and human factors engineering.


Ergonomics is a science concerned with ensuring an environment (particularly a work environment) is suited to the people who use it, taking account of individual and general human capabilities and limitations. Ergonomists give consideration to, among other things, the tasks being performed and their demands on workers, the equipment being used (e.g. size, shape and appropriateness) and the information used to support the task (e.g. presentation, accessibility, changeability). [2].

Ergonomics draws on many disciplines in its study of humans and their environments, including anthropometry, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, industrial design, kinesiology, physiology and psychology.

Typically, an ergonomist will have a BA or BS in Psychology, Industrial/Mechanical Engineering or Health Sciences, and usually an MA, MS or PhD in a related discipline. Many universities offer Master of Science degrees in Ergonomics, while some offer Master of Ergonomics or Master of Human Factors degrees.

In 2000, the field of "ergonomics consulting" was heralded by The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as the number one field in a list of the top ten emerging practices to look out for in the new millennium. [3]

Many occupational therapists have been moving into the field of ergonomics[3].

Five aspects of ergonomics

There are five aspects of ergonomics: safety, comfort, ease of use, productivity/performance, and aesthetics. Based on these aspects of ergonomics, examples are given below of how products or systems could benefit from redesign based on ergonomic principles. The benefits of an ergonomic redesign often cross over into more than one category.

  1. Safety: E.g. Medicine bottles — print sizes could be enlarged so those with impaired vision (due to sinus problems, for example) can more easily read the label instructions. Ergonomics can discover the optimum font style, color and size to enhance readability using the limited space available on a medicine label.
  2. Comfort: E.g. Alarm clock display — some displays are harshly bright, drawing one’s eye to the light or keeping one awake when surroundings are dark. Ergonomic principles could redesign this based on contrast principles and include automatic dimming functions in low-light environments (such as when a user has turned off the room lights to sleep).
  3. Ease of use: E.g. Street Signs — in an unfamiliar area, it can be quite difficult to spot street signs. This could be addressed by using principles of visual detection to make street signs more visible.
  4. Productivity/performance: E.g. Office furniture/equipment — the use of ergonomically designed office furniture and equipment (such as office chairs and computer input devices) can drastically reduce work-related injuries and employee absences.
  5. Aesthetics: E.g. Signs in the workplace — signage could be made more aesthetic by using a consistent format throughout the workplace.

Domains of ergonomics

The IEA divides ergonomics broadly into three domains[1]:

  • Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological and bio-mechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity. Relevant topics include working postures, materials handling, repetitive movements, work related musculo-skeletal disorders, workplace layout, safety and health.
  • Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system. Relevant topics include mental workload, decision-making, skilled performance, human-computer interaction, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system design.
  • Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of socio-technical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes. Relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design, design of working schedules, teamwork, participatory design, community ergonomics, cooperative work, new work paradigms, virtual organizations, tele-work, and quality management.

Examples of ergonomics

Computer and desktop ergonomics

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Ergonomics organizations