Human Factors vs Ergonomics – Are they the same?
November 28, 2005 at 11:07 am #37478
I am taking an informal poll for a graduate studies course that I am currently enrolled in. I am interested in finding out the general community’s positions on/answers to the following questions:
1. What is the definition of Ergonomics?
2. What is the definition of Human Factors?
3. Are they so similar that the terms can be used interchangeably? Please explain.
4. Which is the most likely scenario? a. Human Factors is a sub-discipline of Ergonomics b. Ergonomics is a sub-discipline of Human Factors c. Neither, they are 2 separate disciplines d. They are the same discipline.
I am also planning on performing some interviews with local individuals, and will be writing up the results for a term paper. I would be glad to share my results with anyone who would be interested.
Thank you for taking the time to assist me in my quest for a better understanding of terminology related to Ergonomics.
KBNovember 29, 2005 at 12:54 am #41888
I’m also on a course and have similar questions! I’d be very interested to read your findings, so please let me know at [email protected]. By the way, have you read Jastrzebowski’s “Outline of Ergonomics” (1857)? I got a copy from the Central Institute for Labour Protection, Warsaw, Poland. Very interesting reading…
SwedenNovember 29, 2005 at 12:03 pm #41889
1. Here’s the definition I use: Ergonomics is the science and practice of designing tools, equipment, workstations, and environments to suit human capabilities and limitations.
2. Human Factors pretty much has the same definition. The IEA in their “officially approved” definition doesn’t really make a distinction between the two:
“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.”
3. I don’t think the terms can be used interchangeably, if only because there’s a slight difference in emphasis between the two disciplines. (See answer 4.)
4. I choose e. None of the above. Or, somewhere between c. and d. (c-and-a-half?). I see them as sub-disciplines of the overall HF/E field, with ergonomics emphasizing the physical aspects of work, and human factors emphasizing the cognitive aspects (at least in this country ). You can see this difference when looking at the table of contents for the Human Factors journal, as opposed to something like IJIE or Applied Ergonomics.November 30, 2005 at 1:16 pm #41894
This debate has been going on for the last 100 years and will probably continue longer.
The Canadian Assoc. changed its name from “Human Factors” to “Ergonomics” a few years ago after a protracted debate, actually losing some members in the process!. Bilingual (French/English) requirements were made easier to satisfy using Assoc. Can. Ergo. – ACE, rather than the somewhat clumsy HFAC/ACE
I agree with Rick Goggins. I have always considered that ergonomics stressed physical issues (workstation design,tools etc.) whereas human factors stressed human issues ( environment, cognitive, stress, etc. ).
My experience around the world however is that the terms are used synonymously by practitioners of this science, and are understood to mean the same thing – whatever your bias !
I was pleased to see Wojciech Jastrzebowski’s name quoted – his 1852 paper was the first time the word Ergonomics was used, and so he can truly be called the “father” of our profession.
Jeremy Rickards, PEng. PErgo.
Res. Professor and Ergonomics Consultant.December 1, 2005 at 10:49 pm #41902
I very much agree with the posting of Jeremy Rickards.
Looking at the current state of many job and workplace designs, as well as product designs, I think we have other issues than battling about the name of our profession. In Germany the term Ergonomics is mainly used for product design, Human Factors is not used at all; and the German professional society calls itself Society for Work Science. In Japan a well-known institute is called ISL – Institute for the Science of Labour.
Does it really matter if I introduce myself as Ergonomist, Work Science Specialist, or Human Factors Specialist? My peers would know my field and then probably ask me, what area exactly I am working in. And for the rest I normally have to explain anyway what I am doing. The only thing that I usually make clear is that many products that are labelled “ergonomic” by their manufacturers are anything but. Which brings me back to my first point: There is a lot of problems and issues to be solved – whatever your bias !December 2, 2005 at 3:01 pm #41903
I see human factors and ergonomics as two distinct fields that are complementary, sort of like the differences between anatomy and physiology. Ergonomics is often thought of as the field that deals with design of workplace- environment, machines and tools, whereas human factors deals with human physical, mental and perceptual capabilities, and both are important considerations in the study of work and design of work environments.December 3, 2005 at 2:39 pm #41906
I believe that Human Factors and Ergonomics are what you make them by specific
submittals of technical papers and support of technical groups. For example, I have had several papers published in Human Factors (the journal) that relate to the general topic of anthropometry. By most counts, that is a topic more akin to
workspace than to psychology. However, I acknowledge that my contributions are only a small percentage in the overall mix, and thus the psychological articles
tend to move the “center of gravity” of topics toward their end of the spectrum.
John Roebuck, M. S.
Roebuck Research and ConsultingDecember 3, 2005 at 3:23 pm #41908
Comments such as Mhan leave me rather perplexed.
The Human Factors Society changed its name to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society to reflect that we’re really equivalent. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) in the United States is a Federated member of the International Ergonomics Society (IEA), as is the Ergonomics Society in Europe and as are the many other Ergonomics Societies from nations around the world.
The beginnings of the Human Factors Society rose from the military World War II experience. A lot of knobs and dials and anthropometrics and stuff like that. The origins of the Ergonomics Society in Europe were more broad based and arose from worker quality of worklife and union/management/regulatory efforts.
Each Human Factors and Ergonomics Society publishes both cognitive-oriented and physically-centered research – and aren’t these dimensions ultimately connected? The main difference is that some HFES members in the US (particularly those who perform military work) are accustomed to calling themselves Human Factors Engineers. Many other HFES members (such as me) call ourselves Ergonomists.
But we’re all talking about the same discipline. RaniDecember 5, 2005 at 9:30 pm #41914
Thanks to computer problems my reply is a trifle late – so please forgive me if I am rehashing anything that has already been said. My impression has always been that in earlier days (the 80s and earlier) Human Factors specialists were engineers or designers who specialized in the anthropometric area and focussed on the impact of physiology on the design of controls and displays. The best ones appeared to mainly work for the US military amd wrote Milspecs and engineering design manuals that dealt with things like vehicle controls and cockpit layouts for fighter planes. Some of these documents are still around on the web. if anyone has a comprehensive list of links (or saved copies that could be emailed) please let me know!
When I joined the profession it was (in Australia at any rate) purely a post-graduate specialization for graduates in related sciences and professions. This led to much inter-disciplinary camaraderie and tended to encourage the formation of formal and informal consultancy teams with multidisciplinary expertise.
There was even some debate as to whether it was a philosophy or a profession – and (if it was a profession) whether it could be a profession that was a purely scientific (or at least as pure as an applied science is likely to be) or and art form (in the sense of personal, social and communication, motivation and management skills).
Nowadays ergonomics seems to be seen more as a profession in its own right based on undergraduate courses and this has been (in my opinion at any rate) a giant leap backwards. I have noticed that these changes have led to the following questions in recent years; do we/should we still attempt to offer multidisciplinary expertise? are ergonomics methods designed for experts or non- experts? Some people argue that this depends on the ability of non-ergonomists and that many professionals are almost ergonomists already i.e; designers engineers physical therapists phsiologists computer human interaction specialistsOr at least in some areas such as biomechanics specialists occupational hygienists psychologists doctorsAnd in some cases members of other professions such as; nurses architects interior designers sports trainersErgo experts nowadays are in practice (over here at least) often physiotherapists or occupational therapists who work with (or as!) management consultants. There can be down-side to multidisciplinary need to work with management and other professions to implement change if they are unsympathetic to our ethos or there is any confusion as to who was responsible for making changes (Jones et al,1999). Perhaps we need to try harder at providing or creating multidisciplinary expert task-forces.
I still believe that where we can make it work the sky is the limit!
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J. Jones, A. Cockcroft and B. Richardson, (1999),January 12, 2006 at 2:02 am #42015
it’s very interesting, that this discussion will not function by translating the terms in german.
normally we use different terms, but using this in the same way
Ergonomics as the field that deals with design of workplace- environment, machines and tools, and human factors as a field that deals with human physical, mental and perceptual capabilities
for myself I use it more similar.January 12, 2006 at 10:58 am #42012
Peter, the various Ergonomics societies are shifting in ways that reflect the issues they face. Post 9/11, you could see an increase in emphasis in the US on military and security issues. However, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society publishes on the range of research and applications in its journal, conference proceedings and in its magazine Ergonomics in Design.
Further, HFES points to the definition of ergonomics used by the International Ergonomics Society to describe the discipline of ergonomics that is practiced by its members. (scroll down the page on this link to see it)
Rani Lueder, CPEJanuary 27, 2006 at 2:55 pm #42055
I have read your response, and it makes sense, but as one who has fewer years of experience in HF/E, and recently certified as a CEA, I am confused as to why the BCPE offers two certifications, CPE/CEA and CHFP. If the fields are really one, why the two certifications?
MarkJanuary 28, 2006 at 11:26 am #42057
The second approach would be to have a stationary work surface matched with a tall stool/chair. Most ergonnomic chairs can be affixed with a tall cylinder that will raise the chair to standing height. Be sure and use reverse locking casters so the chair does not go flying backwards potentially resulting in a nasty fall, and in the USA a nastier lawsuit!
Another way to alter worker’s standing posture, is to use a footrest with one foot supported and one foot on the ground, and periodically alternating supported foot. This further reduces static positioning and increases standing tolerance substantially.January 30, 2006 at 1:32 am #42056
I have to add that I think it is wonderful that the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia, Inc have decided to “simplicate and add more lightness” when they declare on their website: “The terms ‘ergonomics’ and ‘human factors’ are used interchangeably.” (http://www.ergonomics.org.au/mainerginfo.htm). Anyone reading this official declaration will be left in no doubt as to where this organisation stands. This declaration also effectively wipes out any perceived differences, leaving time and energy to focus on real issues. Their division of ergonomics into Physical, Cognitive and Organisational can also be understood by anyone. Isn’t their approach a good example of cognitive ergonomics being put into practice?January 30, 2006 at 3:36 pm #42058
Mark (mhankotr1) wrote:
> I am confused as to why the BCPE offers two certifications, CPE/CEA and CHFP.
> If the fields are really one, why the two certifications?
The CPE (Certified Professional Ergonomist) and CHFP (Certified Human Factors Professional) credentials are the same in every way but name. Applicants who satisfy the BCPE (Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics) criteria for this level of certification may choose either CPE or CHFP. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I believe only about 15% choose the CHFP designation, and the majority go with CPE. As I understand it, BCPE retains the CHFP option because in certain industries and organizations the job title Human Factors Engineer is prevalent, and the CHFP designation is therefore desirable.January 30, 2006 at 4:42 pm #42059
Tim, to be safe, I forwarded the link to this discussion about BCPE to Karel Jahns, who helps manage BCPE. She gave me permission to post her followup to my comment.
>>>I think your response was quite accurate. The only thing I could add is that the IEA endorsement of our certification program is only for the professional certifications of CPE and CHFP.
My aside, not Karel’s – IEA, of course, refers to the International Ergonomics Association that constitutes the Federation of Ergonomics Societies around the world. After poking around a while and talking to a lot of people about it when I chaired an HFES task force, I came to the conclusion that an important reason that the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in the US did not officially recognize BCPE was because that was implicit in being a Federated member society of IEA.January 31, 2006 at 11:20 am #42060
In case I confused the situation more by my last comment, I was trying to say that being a Federated member Society of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) implies that HFES (as do the other federated Ergonomics Societies) implicitly recognizes the BCPE processes for certifying CPE and CPHF certifications.March 14, 2006 at 12:55 pm #42161
I am a little late since it is now March but….I believe that ergonomics could be considered a category within Human Factors. For example, could ergonomics be used to evaluate website usability (GUI not hardware) or evaluate proprioceptive shifts within Virtual reality? I also agree that most Human Factors Psychologists or Engineers do not cover all areas of Human Factor and by no means do I consider a Human Factors title equivalent to an ergonomists title. It just depends on your field of interest and practice
Human FactorsMarch 14, 2006 at 1:09 pm #42162March 14, 2006 at 1:21 pm #42164
It may be limited but not dead http://psychology.wichita.edu/hci/. WSU is also a member of HFES. Usability however is just one topic under the human factors umbrella that does not fall under ergonomics. I do see in the aviation industry that I work within not using Human Factors in a very wide perspective to its own detriment. Usability, training, performance criterion for a reliable or performance culture, work manuals…..the need for improvement and financial impact to companies through a human factors perspective is not filled by ergonomics alone. Please also review the Air Force perspective on this topic. One is a category within the other.March 14, 2006 at 2:19 pm #42166
CGV, just looked it up on my database. Hope you don’t take offense, I was just curious….
Since the inception of the Ergonomics Journal, they have had 85 journal articles with the words “human computer interface’ in them.
In contrast, the Human Factors / Human factors and ergonomics journal have had 112 journal articles with the same key words.March 14, 2006 at 7:26 pm #42165
No offense taken, I expect anyone who I came in contact with to go back and verify anything anyone states. People notoriously label others with incorrect tags that eventually get accepted as true. Case in point, I spent 12 years in the air force wearing fatigue battle dress uniform fatigues. Anytime I came into contact with the civilian sector not familiar with the air force I was tagged as being a soldier in the army, made no difference that it was an incorrect association. I guess the only thing I could ask you to do for you see through different eyes is to list the areas that an ergonomists covers as part of their training and those covered by a human factors psychologist. If you were to affinitize these items how would they be categorized…would it be symmetrical or would ergonomics fall under a higher category of human factors. In your next response list what you believe the typical ergonomic specialists is trained to do.
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