The Association of Canadian Ergonomists / Association canadienne d’ergonomie (ACE)1 uses the following definition:
“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with interactions among humans and other elements of a system (e.g. the tools, equipment, products, tasks, organization, technology, and environment). The profession applies theory, principles, data, methods and analysis to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
For our purpose, a simple definition of ergonomics is “design for human use”. In the workplace, this means applying knowledge of human characteristics to optimize the match between workers, their tasks, and the work environment. The key principle is fitting the task to the human.
Ergonomics can also be understood in terms of making it easier for the worker to do the task physically, cognitively, and/or organizationally. This does not always mean making the job easier and it is important to understand this distinction. If for example, if the job demands are greater than worker capabilities, then it is appropriate to reduce the job demands to make the job easier or less physical and achieve a better balance with worker capabilities.
On the other hand, if the task demands are well below the capabilities of the worker, making the job more challenging may actually make the job healthier to perform. An example would be a highly repetitive assembly task that is very monotonous and boring. Making the task more challenging or stimulating by requiring additional steps, such as performing quality checks while assembling the product, may not make the job easier, but will improve the ergonomics of the job by reducing boredom.
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