Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Human Factor Engineering

Human engineering or human factors engineering, also called ergonomics, is the science of designing machines, products, and systems to maximize the safety, comfort, and efficiency of the people who use them. This area is a vital component of future.

The comparison between speed and liveliness of current technological advance with the tardiness and unevenness has always marked educational developments. This comparison is between invention and the processes by which people appreciate, accept and use invention.

The human factor engineers draw on the principles of industrial engineering, psychology, anthropometry (the science of human measurement), and biomechanics (the study of muscular activity) to adapt the design of products and workplaces to people’s sizes and shapes and their physical strengths and limitations. They also consider the speed with which humans react and how they process information, and their capacities for dealing with psychological factors, such as stress or isolation. Armed with this complete picture of how humans interact with their environment, human factor engineers develop the best possible design for products and systems, ranging from the handle of a toothbrush to the flight deck of the space shuttle.

The future holds promise for ergonomically designed system to provide optimum performance and takes advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of both its human and machine components.

The ergonomics will prevent workplace illness and accidents resulting from continuous repetition of the same motions. The injuries that may be caused will be exacerbated by awkward postures, such as bending or reaching.

Ergonomists will work to eliminate such health problems by designing workplaces, such as offices or assembly lines, with injury prevention in mind. They will position tools and machinery accessible without twisting, reaching, or bending; design adjustable workbenches, desks, and chairs to comfortably accommodate workers of many different sizes, preventing the need to continuously lean or overextend the arms. They will also determine and design safe workplace environmental conditions, such as correct temperature, lighting, noise, and ventilation to ensure that workers perform under optimal conditions.

Ergonomists will seek to increase worker efficiency and productivity when designing workspaces. They will place those pieces of equipment used most frequently in closest proximity to the worker and arrange systems in ways that are convenient and easy to use. Well-designed workspaces will thus ensure workers perform their jobs in optimal comfort, without experiencing unnecessary physical and mental fatigue that can slow work performance, reduce accuracy, or cause accidents.

They will design individual tools and equipment for use of workers, such as, curved computer keyboards to encourage typists to hold their wrists in a position that is less likely to cause carpal tunnel syndrome; to protect the eyes from incessant glare, ergonomically designed computer monitors will be equipped with glare reduction screens. Ergonomically designed chairs will distribute a person’s body weight evenly to avoid back and neck strain. These chairs adjusted to a user’s height will ensure that the feet rest flat on the ground. In factories and assembly lines, ergonomically designed knobs and levers positioned appropriately so as not to require reaching, and these knobs and levers also require minimal force to trip.

Some ergonomists will practice in the area of job design, thus helping employers assess both the individual tasks necessary to perform a particular job and the skills needed to accomplish each task. By grouping like tasks and skills, jobs will be redesigned to maximize efficiency. An office telephone receptionist, for example, will perform a number of other tasks as varied as filing, sorting mail, and bookkeeping. Grouping these responsibilities, will all be performed in the vicinity of the office telephone system, making use of the receptionist’s time when there are no telephone calls. Ergonomists will help employers evaluate different ways of organizing workdays to increase worker productivity, ensuring that workers have adequate breaks and rest periods, as well as a well-defined set of tasks.

The work of cognitive ergonomists will be particularly evident in public transportation buildings, such as airports or train stations. These buildings are often large, complex, and difficult to navigate. Cognitive ergonomists will develop clear, easy-to-understand navigation aids, such as signs and maps, to help people find their way to their gate as simply and efficiently as possible. Color-coded subway maps, for example, will help subway riders navigate with relative ease through a complicated maze of interconnected underground tunnels.

Ergonomic design will make consumer products safer, easier to use, and more reliable. In many manufacturing industries, ergonomists will work with designers to develop products that fit the bodies and meet the expectations of the people who use them. An ergonomically designed toothbrush, for example, will have a broad handle for easy grip, bent neck for easier access to back teeth, and a bristle head shaped for better tooth surface contact. The shaving razor has already undergone a similar design revolution.

Ergonomics will become increasingly concerned with future marketing. This is the discipline of modeling future social and lifestyle trends in order to inform design and marketing strategy to deliver an offer and a brand image that will appeal to users over the medium to long term.

It is often suggested that the great increase of automatic controls for practical purposes will lead to widespread unemployment. This is unlikely, except perhaps as a temporary phenomenon. The future will still have a vast demand for people to improve, monitor and especially to maintain the necessary instruments. Also there will be an increasing tendency towards shorter working hours and a great increase of leisure time activities, which will absorb a larger and larger amount of employment.

We have got to go all out to learn how to balance reduction of conditions irrelevant to efficiency against increase of efficiency range. Most operatives will be combining two or more jobs, which have generally been regarded as different, and as requiring different performers. This future is in the neighborhood. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation