Ergonomics, Work and Health

Posted 18th February 2009

Caroline Paterson is an active member of the CMSUK on the events committee.  She has completed a MSc in Environmental and Occupational Medicine (Ergonomics) at the University of Aberdeen and is currently undertaking her research thesis in neck, back and shoulder pain.  This article is the introduction to the full version, which is available by clicking on this link 





Ergonomics is not about in the words of Dolly Parton "Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living".




"She blinded me with Science" (Thomas Dolby).


The science of ergonomics in its present form dates back to World War 2.


Ergonomics was founded by a group of British scientists who had been working on various projects concerned with the efficiency of the fighting man for the armed forces.


The group included anatomists, physiologists, psychologists and engineers and they believed that a multidisciplinary scientific approach to the study of working efficiency could be equally relevant to industry in peace time.


However, they did not have a name for this area of research and therefore invented the name of "Ergonomics". The word is derived from the Greek: ergos meaning work and nomos meaning natural law.


In North America a similar discipline evolved which was called "Human Factors" which simply means people are different, people have limitations and people have predictable reactions.


This simplest definition is that "Ergonomics is the scientific study of human work" and "Work" may refer to any kind of human activity that involves purpose or effort.


Ergonomics is concerned with:


  • the application of scientific information concerning human beings to the design of objects, systems and environments for human use;
  • the design of working systems in which humans interact with machines;
  • the science of matching the job to the worker and the product to the user.


An efficient match is one which maximises:


  • working efficiency;
  • health and safety;
  • comfort and ease of use.

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