The History and Present of Ergonomics
The first question that readily comes to mind is what is Ergonomics? Is it a science based discipline? Does it have roots embedded in the Arts? What is its relevance and applications to everyday life?
The first answer, which is its definition, will put the concept of Ergonomics into sharper focus. Ergonomics is a discipline that ties and seeks to understand how human endeavor and cognitive abilities interacts with systems, processes, tools, equipment, machinery and other non-living aids in order to ensure that human output is maximized.
Also referred to as Human Factors (commonly used in North America), Ergonomics is a science that aims to uncover human abilities and limitations in all its ramifications; and to use this knowledge to set up machinery, tools and related processes to enhance our strengths and to augment our weaknesses.
You will find that there exist specialized domains of study with the Ergonomic mix and they include the following:
a. Physical Ergonomics: Which looks at how our human anatomy along with considerations of our anthropometric, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics affect the way we carry out physical activity.
b. Cognitive Ergonomics: Looks at how processes from our mental faculties like perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response affect human interaction with systems and processes.
c. Organizational Ergonomics: Involves the study of complex work structures and systems interacting with the abilities and cognitive strength of man.
History of Ergonomics
Recall that the early man, our forbearer, managed to create fires by striking stones over an assemblage of sticks, wood and other flammable materials. Since then, the earliest recorded practices of Ergonomics are attributed to the Greeks, where unearthed evidence reveals that the office of Greek surgeons were designed and spaced to cater to the needs of the patient.
You will find another distinctive use of Ergonomics in the 19th century, especially during the Industrial Revolution that swept across most parts of Europe and North America. A particular case in point centered on the discovery that the amount of coal that workers in the mine fetch, could be tripled when the size and weight borne by cola shovels were reduced.
You will also find interesting the role that Ergonomics played in the aviation sector from WW 1. Just before the first great war, the focus for aviation experts was the training and grooming of pilots, who were seen as the limiting factor in flying a war plane.
However, results on the battlefield showed that it would be more beneficial to focus on the plane just as much as on the training received by the pilot. Hence amendments were made to fashions out smart controls and displays while taking into consideration altitude and other environmental factors.
Present Trends in Ergonomics
From a testing start in history, the discipline of Ergonomics has evolved over the years, gathering structure and replicable methodology. Presently, you will find that the study of Ergonomics draws from the research and findings of many other scientific disciplines that include:
• Anthropometry: This discipline provides Ergonomics with useful data on the effects of body sizes, shapes; at the same time, you will find useful information regarding demographic/ population effects and variations.
• Biomechanics: Biomechanics helps the Ergonomist appreciate the contributions made by muscles in the body, the effects of levers and counter levers, the impact of forces and the depths of the application of strength/power.
• Environmental Physics: Environmental Physics beams the search light on non-physical matter/phenomena such as the propagation of noise, the travel path of light, the effects of heat and cold on the human body, radiation exposure and its inherent risks, the creation of vibration body systems which comprise hearing, vision and other bodily sensations
• Applied Psychology: This discipline provides data on skill acquisition, learning routes, the effects of human errors as well as the differences in cognitive ability/
• Social Psychology: Social Psychology helps Ergonomics understand the working of social groups, communication levels, learning paths as well as group behaviors determining the outcomes of human endeavor.
Ergonomics finds its most pressing, present-day applications in the following areas:
a. In the Work Place
It will interest you to know that research found out that the cost to the global economy, due to injuries and illness sustained by workers, is estimated at over 100 billion USD annually. The causative factors are related to inefficient systems and tools that are a burden on the physical and mental well being of the worker. Lower back pain is one of the major effects of inefficient processes.
In this regard, Ergonomics takes the input from the aforementioned disciplines, in order to create safe, relaxed and fruitful workspaces by subsuming human skills and restrictions into the plan of a workstation, including taking into consideration the individual’s body size, strength, skill, speed, cognitive abilities, and even behavior exhibited in a group.
b. In the Wider Population
As healthcare delivery systems improve, more and more people are living longer and healthier lives. In other words, the population of the old and aged in on the increase, therefore it becomes imperative that Ergonomics draws up tools, systems and processes that will cater to the needs of this class of individuals. The development brought up by Ergonomics will find useful application in the design and construction of homes, workplaces, living quarters and other areas frequented by the elderly.