What is the Origin of Ergonomics? Why is it Important?
Ergonomics is part of a wider discipline called “Human Factors & Ergonomics” (HF&E).
Put simply, it is concerned with comfort design, functional design, and user-friendly systems. It is also the practice of designing products, systems or processes to take proper account of the interaction between them and the people that use them.
Or to quote the definition of an official organization (emphasis mine):
Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.—International Ergonomics Association
HF&E is a range of subjects designed around improving health and safety in the workplace in order to improve productivity, and also improving mobility around personal spaces for people of all ages.
Different ages of people have varying needs when it comes to comfortable design, and each require a different approach to solve.
The range could be as vast as an office worker who experiences wrist discomfort, all the way to someone who loves to run but is unaware of cadence issues or the correct clothing they should be wearing. It can also greatly improve the standard of living for senior citizens by employing the correct design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces such as walking sticks, shoes, bags, baths, showers and a whole range of different products.
The whole aim of proper usable design is to prevent repetitive strain injuries and other musculo-skeletal disorders, which can develop over time and can lead to chronic issues such as long term disability and other debilitating problems like back pain.
Why is Ergonomics Important in Our Lives?
Human factors and comfortability is connected to how the user, their equipment and their environments interact with each other.
It takes account of how the user’s capabilities and limitations can increase or decrease performance with a given task in seeking to ensure that tasks, functions, information and the environment suit each user.
Of course this is a very dry and academic way of talking about comfort. This is purely because safety/usability is usually slotted into the “scientific” pigeon hole and as a result, many folks get scared away or just plain bored with reading about it.
In normal everyday language, ergonomics concerns itself with making you perform better and think better, walk/ run/ sprint better. It is also a proactive health measure as well a reactive one. What that basically means is that it can help to prevent health issues such as poor posture leading to chronic back pain, as well as being able to ease health issues after they have struck already.
This is how ergonomics can help you to make a difference in your lives today, even if you are already suffering from usability related problems.
The people who design such ergonomic products, spend many years specializing in human factors and have to consider, among other things, the activity being undertaken by someone and the demands on the user.
They research a multitude of things such as the equipment used (its size, shape, and how appropriate it is for the task), and how it is presented, accessed, and changed, (or in other words, how the equipment is used.)
Is Ergonomics Used in Other Ways Apart from Health?
Absolutely! Ergonomics draws on many disciplines in its study of humans and their environments. These include, but are not limited to:
- Anthropometry – the measurement of a human in order to study human variation.
- Biomechanics – the study of the structure and function of biological systems such as humans, animals, plants, organs, and cells.
- Mechanical engineering – the discipline that applies the principles of engineering, physics and materials science for the design, analysis, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems.
- Industrial engineering – a branch of engineering which deals with the optimization of complex processes or systems including people, money, knowledge, information, equipment, energy, materials etc.
- Industrial design – a process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production.
- Information design – the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it.
- Kinesiology – the scientific study of human movement.
- Physiology – the scientific study of normal function in living systems.
- Cognitive psychology – the study of mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and thinking.
- Industrial and organizational psychology – the scientific study of human behavior in the workplace and applies psychological theories and principles to organizations.
So as you can see from this list, ergonomics is certainly well integrated into many aspects of our lives!
For example, the original iPod became the popular golden egg for Apple computers precisely because of its careful consideration of usability factors, mainly within the discipline of industrial design.
Etymology (Origin of the Word)
For those who are interested in such things (as I am and I assume most people who read all the way down here would be!), ergonomics as a word has a very long history indeed.
It is from the Greek words – ἔργον, meaning “work”, and νόμος, meaning “natural law”.
The actual word associated to its current definition came from the Polish scientist Wojciech Jastrzębowski, who first used the word in 1857 in his article: The Outline of Ergonomics; i.e. Science of Work, Based on the Truths Taken from the Natural Science.
According to Wikipedia:
The introduction of the term to the English lexicon is widely attributed to British psychologist Hywel Murrell, at the 1949 meeting at the UK’s Admiralty, which led to the foundation of The Ergonomics Society
The expression “human factors” is a North American term which has been adopted to emphasize the application of the same methods to non work-related situations.
This is especially true in our modern world whereby human interactions of mass produced products can really alter societies and change the direction of our progress.
For example, think about the last time you forgot your phone and how cut off from the world you felt. This is partly to do ergonomics including how we connect with our devices and the outside world.
Injuries You Can Prevent by Living Ergonomically
Below is just a short list of injuries that you can prevent if you decide to follow a safe lifestyle and you may be surprised with just how much you can reduce the pain and discomfort of some of these by doing so.
- Back pain/ injury
- Neck pain/ injury
- Carpel tunnel syndrome
- Tennis elbow
- Trigger finger
- Bursitis (Bursitis is inflammation of the small sac of fluid that cushions and lubricates an area where tissues rub against one another)
- Muscle strains
You can find out how ergonomics affects your health here for more information:
You could even ask why is ergo important to us when we could just exercise? Well I can understand why some of you may think that way because we have be told all of our lives that exercise is incredibly important, which indeed it is, but it is only one part of the equation.
There are many problems that can occur with your body when the correct healthy methods are not used, especially with exercise! For example, shin splints are a painful injury some people get when they start running. It is caused by small micro fractures in the shin bones that, if left untreated, can turn into a serious problem. Go here to learn more about this.
However, what many people don’t know is that with the correct shoes or insoles, shin splints can be pretty much eliminated therefore leaving you to run in comfort.
However in order to fix your body’s health problems, you first have to ask the question, “why is ergonomics important?”, to which the I hope to provide the answer on this page. It is also why ergonomics is important for our health and you can find that out here. Also, if you want to find more ergo products, you can go here: www.ergonomichealthhq.com/best-memory-foam-mattress-topper-review
List of Human Factor & Ergonomics Organization
Being such an important part of our health and well being, as well as also being a very varied but specialized subject, it is not surprising that there are several organizations based around ergonomics.
Below is a list of some relevant ergonomic organizations that you can check out and see the information they provide:
These are just a few of the relevant ones I could find, but there are many others that are well worth a look. However as I have previously mentioned, they are scientific or engineering type organizations and as a result, it can be a little bit of a strain to read all the information they have.
I hope that I have been able to give a basic answer to why ergonomics is so important and should really a big part of your lives.
I made it part of mine a while ago and never looked back. By living an ergonomically active life and making sure to really think about things such as the way you are sitting and what products can help you, you will really get an enormous benefit and greatly raise up your quality of life.
Hopefully the Brian’s Spine Health HQ blog can be a way to make ergonomics more accessible and improve our lives by increasing comfort and reducing pain, one ergonomical article at a time!