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Lean, Ergonomics, Six Sigma and Systems Thinking (L.E.S.S.™): Part 3: Overview of Ergonomics

In part two of this blog series I gave an overview of Lean. Now we’re moving onto the second component of L.E.S.S.™ which is Ergonomics.

Ergonomics (synonymous with Human Factors) Defined

According to the Internal Ergonomics Association is defined as the “scientific discipline concerned with understanding of interactions between humans and other elements of system, applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being (comfort, morale) and overall system performance (productivity, efficiency, workflow, quality, safety)”. Therefore by definition it is used to improve business systems as well as human (employee) performance. Unfortunately, the complete definition and practice of ergonomics is almost always limited to the physical aspects of the human. Left unused and poorly understood are the other two primary components of ergonomics and its application from the enterprise level and all the way down to the individual workstation.

3 Components of Ergonomics:

1. Physical: This is what is stereotypically thought of as ergonomics. This involves science and observation of the physical job factors (i.e. posture, force, repetition, duration, etc.) and individual factors (i.e. height, age, vision, fitness, etc.)5

2. Cognitive: This component is frequently neglected or just not known by most. Cognitive ergonomics can be thought of as “designing for the mind”. The design of the work must reflect the user’s knowledge, skills, abilities, natural behaviors and tendencies (habits), situational awareness limitations and perceptions. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that your employees “do stupid things” it may be because you haven’t factored the mind into the work design.6

3. Organizational: This is another component that is often neglected or unknown. This analyzes the system, policies/procedures, processes, work flow and culture of an organization. A good question to ask for this component is, “Does the policy/procedure match reality?”.

Why Ergonomics?

Organizations have turned to Ergonomics to improve and optimize a wide range of human-machine-environment-computer interface. Below is a list of some areas in which Ergonomics is very beneficial:

  • Human health and wellbeing
  • Human error
  • Computer-user interface
  • Usability
  • Way-finding
  • Product design
  • Work, work environment and work process design

The results using ergonomics are:

  • Greater productivity & efficiency
  • Engaged employees
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Reduce risk (injury, error and mistakes)
  • Design of work and workflow
  • Design of buildings and workstations
  • Reduced operating costs

A good representation of ergonomics can be seen in the following diagram. It shows the interconnectedness of the organization, people and job and the effects on productivity, costs, risks, efficiency, sales, errors and injuries.

ergonomics defined

Ergonomics done successfully can be summarized as follows:

  • The system fits the user(s) body and mind
  • The system fits the organization by optimizing workflow and human-machine performance

Ergonomics that focuses mainly on the physical component is “owned” by HR or EHS. Ergonomics that utilizes all three components is “owned” by R&D or Operations. Ergonomics can be found in all industries with the focus typically in the office and shop floor.