Ergonomics: From Chairs to Control Room Consoles

Have you ever wondered what ergonomics is?

Ergonomics is the practice of designing products and systems to create a productive and comfortable interaction between such things and the human body. Administrators in the workplace often employ ergonomics to improve upon the productivity and morale of the workers. Also, products and furnishings in the home continue to benefit from the same practice. Health benefits are another result brought on by ergonomical considerations. People with disabilities can also be benefitted by another facet of ergonomics, the intention to overcome limitations.

Evidence has been presented to show Greece in the fifth century BC may have been the earliest civilization to make use of ergonomic principles. The Greeks refined the shape and size of their tools over time, based on ergonomic thinking. It has been noted by historian that Ancient Egypt also sometimes employed ergonomics, in the way that surgeons arranged their tools, for example. Frederick Winslow Taylor was the first to introduce ergonomic principles as a discipline to be observed to provide the optimum method of carrying out a task. In one example from the nineteenth century, he found that reducing the weight of coal shovels allowed miners to triple the amount of coal shoveled.

Warfare's continual evolution has often presented a good example of ergonomics at work. World War I brought a new area of ergonomic study: aviation. The subjects ranged from the design of controls to feel intuitive and means of overcoming or dealing with the effects of altitude. During the 1930s, Edwin Link fashioned the first flight simulator based on a combination of ergonomics and aeromedical principles. These innovations and many others prepared the military for World War II.

Soon after the war, other designers began to apply ergonomic thinking to a variety of other fields. Automobiles, as an example, underwent changes to make them more comfortable, safer and more efficient to use.

Perhaps the next largest impact on industry came with the dawn of the Information Age and the rise of the computer. With the development of the personal computer (PC), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) became a driver for the business. A wide range of devices and furniture would follow the PC, most with ergonomic considerations built into the design. This list included the mouse, built to fit the human hand, and operations center furniture, which better suited comfortable computer use for the human body. Business and government have made use of the same thinking in the design of their furnishings, in control room consoles and data center consoles, for example.

Full-time specialists in ergonomics, sometimes called user trial engineers, became the obvious result of its popularity in the workplace. These human factor professionals apply ergonomic principles to design or implement equipment in order to improve comfort and safety and productivity. Additionally, they consider all of the factors concerned with human interaction with the environment, such as climate, light, temperature. We continue to see new areas of interest for ergonomics, including fields as diverse as aviation, psychology, technology and highway safety.