Is there a clear understanding of using human factors and ergonomics at work?
Authors: Maria Lindholm, Elina Parviainen
Abstract: Human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) is a scientific discipline that aims to understand interactions among humans and other elements of a system where an individual performs his/her work tasks with different materials, tools and technologies in a certain work environment in given time. HF/E applies theory, principles, data and methods in design to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. International Ergonomics Association (IEA) has defined HF/E specialists core competencies as foundation knowledge, HF/E measurement and analysis skills, HF/E evaluation skills, HF/E recommendation skills, HF/E implementation skills, scientific skills, and professional behavior. In addition, Centre for Registration of European Ergonomists (CREE) has defined European Ergonomists as professionals who are experienced in using knowledge from the areas of anatomy, physiology, psychology, social organization and the physical environment to design work systems, structures and activities to optimize human performance and well-being. However, in public discussion and in generic understanding, it is not clear what HF/E or ergonomics means nor who are HF/E specialists or ergonomists, what do they do and where do they work.This study aims to contribute to the above presented discussion. A questionnaire was conducted to collect internationally HF/E experts' (n = 8) opinions on proactive designing of work and work environments. Beside the questionnaire, to gain the same understanding nationally, qualitative interviews for Finnish professionals (n = 9) were conducted with a semi-structured interview form. The questions in both phases were based on a handbook, “People in designing work and the working environment - a handbook for the proactive planning of work and design of working environments” (later “handbook”), commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The handbook aimed to offer tools for proactive planning of work and designing working environments. In this study, related to the questionnaire, the focus is on the questions “What is your image about who are doing the planning of work and design of work environment at workplaces?”, “Who are responsible for taking care that all needed actions for planning and designing the work will be done?”, “Who are responsible for the whole process (designing of work)?”, “Who are responsible for the needed knowledge (designing of work)?”, and “How would you define the role and tasks of a HFE professional in this kind of process (designing of work)?”. Related to interviews, the focus is on the generic views and comments about the design process and the roles in it, inspired by the discussion about the handbook. The materials were analyzed by categorization.In the interviews, the overall opinion was that there is no clear picture of who actually is an HF/E specialist, how it is defined and who are they specifically in Finland, which may lead to false impressions. In the questionnaire, roles and responsibilities in planning and designing the work and utilizing HF/E in it, were described with wide variety in the answers. These preliminary results suggest that there is a need to widen the public discussion and public view on HF/E specialists and sharpen the understanding about them.
Keywords: human factors and ergonomics, designing work, HF/E, HF/E specialist
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