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Ergonomics: What Is It?

Ergonomics is a complex science – a mix of biology, psychology, engineering and design, that studies the interaction and relationship between humans and the surrounding – the products, environment and systems. It is the study to understanding ways to improve safety, health and comfort of humans in working environment. It is a discipline to improving the techniques in optimizing human performance, meaning it studies the ways to re-structure and rearrange office equipment, furniture, procedure, timetable etc to increase productivity. That however does not mean that ergonomics is limited to office space, it also applies to other areas of human life too. In more practical terms, Ergonomics is an applied science – of designs of products and equipments in offices for the comfort of workers and to increase productivity and efficiency.

An ergonomicist, one who practices ergonomics, studies the relationship between humans and the equipment he uses at work. The practice of ergonomic includes designing office space, furniture and to designing the placement of switches in control boards of the machinery equipment. It also includes the study of the relationship of human behavior with its environment.

The study of the science of ergonomics started from Greece. The word itself is derived from two Greek words – ergon (work) and nomos (natural law). Later, in the 19th century, Frederik Winslow Taylor coined the ‘Scientific Management’ to derive maximum output in factory work. Out of Taylor’s method Gilbreth, in 1900s derived ‘Time and Motion Studies’. Since then and over the modern times, the science of ergonomics has develops tremendously. As humans reach the ‘space age’ new human factors – weightlessness and g-force came into play. As we advance towards more future, the discipline of agronomics also gets more and more complex. In 1943, Alphonse Chapanis, an US army officer, found out that the pilot error in air traffic accidents could be greatly reduced by replacing the confusing control layout in plane cockpits with one that is more logical and simple.

Organizational ergonomics deals with socio-technical system of work place – a combination of organizational structure, process and policies. Cognitive ergonomics is the psychological aspect of it – the study and understanding of ideas, perception, attention, memory and retrieval. Academic study of ergonomics would include the study of psychology, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering or health science. One should have a BA or BS in these subjects to be an ergonomicist. One can also do Master of Ergonomics or Master of Human Factors. In respect to its usage in such vast areas of human concern, and because it is a combination of sciences, it can arguably called the most important field of study.

The science of ergonomics can be applied to all aspects of human activity – work, home, education, play. The applied study of ergonomics looks into the design aspect of office furniture like computer chairs or of office equipment, like the computer keyboard. Ergonomics can also be applicable in home living environment. The discipline of ergonomics that studies the environment of the universe is also known as the quantum ergonomics. The history of the study of ergonomics is as fascinating as its future is exciting.

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