You have seen the word ergonomics widely used in advertisements and editorials for everything from kitchens to cars, computers and aircraft. What does such a widely applicable word mean and what benefits can ergonomics offer you?
Ergonomics is about fit. Ergonomics is concerned with the fit between people, the activities they wish to carry out, the tools, machines and systems they use to aid them and the environments in which they are performed. A chair must be the correct height fro the occupant, a computer program must be understandable, the instruments in an aircraft must be readable by the pilot and the lighting in a factory must be adequate. If this fit is achieved, we would expect the performance of the user to be better than if it were not.
The fact that people are able to use poorly designed equipment, often under difficult working conditions, shows that people are adaptable. They can tolerate small departures from optimal designs of the equipment they use and the environments in which they work. However, there is a limit to the amount of adaptation a person may reasonably be asked to make. Beyond this there is a cost. The cost can be in terms of efficiency in doing a job, stress and strain on the user of a product, frustration and dissatisfaction on the part of the user, and the potential for accidents and personal injury. If the user is attempting to use a marketed product such as a food mixer, the difficulty of use experienced is likely to affect the market success of the product.
Ignorance of ergonomics by designers, planners and other decision makers can result in a poor fit between user, equipment or environment. This is manifested in the time taken to carry out activities with the equipment, in mistakes being made and in feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction in the user. The user may suffer temporary or permanent physical damage. On a wider scale, marketed products are uncompetitive, national resources may be squandered and absenteeism and labour turnover rates increase as a workforce becomes dissatisfied with its working conditions and practices.
From Ergonomics in Action by The Ergonomics Society