You must understand the basic principles of human-friendly design to evaluate or design workplace equipment. There are no shortcuts or simple tips that replace a firm grasp of the underlying objectives.
These generic principles apply in every setting and help you to focus the main objectives, amidst the various techniques that may apply in some situations, but not others. Keeping the underlying principles in mind helps you to avoid mistakes, in particular the unintended consequences of equipment changes.
The field of ergonomics can be divided into two sub-fields: physical and cognitive*. The physical issues are the focus of these materials and can be outlined as a set of 10 design principles. (An overview of cognitive principles provides a brief introduction to these concepts.)
- Work in neutral postures
- Reduce excessive force
- Keep everything in easy reach
- Work at proper heights
- Reduce excessive motions
- Minimize fatigue and static load
- Minimize pressure points
- Provide clearance
- Design for movement
- Maintain a comfortable environment
Even though many of these principles may appear simple and self-evident, they are routinely overlooked in the workplace. Furthermore, one should never underestimate the power of a few fundamental ideas applied systematically.
Depending on the situation, there can be considerable overlap between these 10 principles. Yet, each principle stands alone and serves to encapsulate a body of knowledge of the field of ergonomics. Taken as a whole, they represent a method for knowing what to look for, and finding smarter, friendlier ways to work.
It is important to make a distinction between a principle versus a solution for one particular situation. A common example is the wrist rest used for computer keyboards. Wrist rests are helpful in many situations, but not always. The underlying principle is to keep the wrist in its neutral posture. Whether you need a wrist rest or not depends upon the principle of good wrist posture. What makes it ergonomics is the better posture of the wrist, not the presence of the wrist rest.
*The cognitive issues are sometimes referred in North America as “human factors.” Technically speaking, the terms “ergonomics” and “human factors” are synonymous.