The terms ‘Human Factors’ and ‘Ergonomics’ are synonymous but used in different areas of the world. Generally, in the English speaking world, ‘Ergonomics’ is often incorrectly used to solely refer to the physical design of workspaces, but the scope of Human Factors/Ergonomics (HF/E) is much broader:
“…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.” (International Ergonomics Association www.iea.cc)
In clinical settings, the work of health professionals and by extension the safety of patients and the workers is affected by a multitude of factors:
[Clinical Human Factors is about] “enhancing clinical performance through an understanding of the effects of teamwork, tasks, equipment, workspace, culture, organisation on human behaviour and abilities, and application of that knowledge in clinical settings.” (Catchpole, 2011)
Human Factors approaches move the focus of responsibility from the individual practitioner to a broader systems perspective. These approaches appreciate the fact that clinicians and other workers are usually doing their best to adapt to difficult circumstances and create safety. This is against the more traditional view of humans being the weak link in the safety chain. Human Factors acknowledges the strengths of the human component and attempts to augment these rather than merely urging staff to ‘just try harder’ or ‘don’t make mistakes’.
Human Factors Specialists
Just as there are specialists in the health system with unique skills and knowledge, there are also specialists in HF. Groups of HF specialists comes from different academics fields and often use their skills in several industries. A few of these areas of specialisation are listed below:
Physical Human Factors Physical HF specialists often come from engineering, design, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or human movement disciplines. They are concerned with the biomechanics and physical measurement of tasks and work design.
Cognitive Human Factors Cognitive HF specialists or ‘cognitive engineers’ are commonly academic cognitive psychologists. Cognitive HFs deals with the perception, memory, and cognitive processing of alarms, displays along with the resultant decision-making.
Organisational Human Factors Specialists in Organisational HF frequently have backgrounds in business, human resources, sociology or theoretical safety science. This specialty is involved with how work is designed, scheduled and organised into work groups.
Computer Human Interaction (CHI) Also termed Human-Computer Interaction, these specialists are generally information technology or computer science graduates. They research and implement computer interface design to improve the safety and efficiency of computer systems.
Training and Education These are commonly instructional designers and educationalists involved with the design of educational programs. It includes the training and evaluation of teams and the preparation of individuals and teams for adopting new processes.