Seldomly discussed, ergonomics has shaped the way that we do business and live our lives.
Ergonomics is the process of designing systems to better the interaction between humans and the tools they use. Administrative authorities often employ the philosophy to make improvements in the workplace. Also, products and furnishings in the home continue to benefit from the same practice. Either use can have added medical benefits by reducing the chances of disabilities such as repetitive strain injuries or skeletal disorders. Ergonomics, taken to the next step, provides solutions to limitations people have, including the assistance to people with disabilities.
Ergonomic principles have been observed in societies as far back as Greece in the fifth century BC. Tools used by Greek workers were refined over time, providing the foundation of ergonomics. In Ancient Egypt, historians have observed, that surgeons arranged their surgical tools in a manner which reduced the difficulty of use in surgery. Ergonomics as a formal discipline is often credited to Frederick Winslow Taylor who presented it as a provision for the optimal method of performing a task. Taylor, in one example, found that by reducing the weight of the shovels used to shovel coal, the coal output could be tripled.
The military, of course, adopted ergonomics to increase the effectiveness and ease of waging war. During World War I aviation was a subject of intense ergonomic study, providing the maximum effect and efficiency of pilots working with their aircraft. This was especially true in designing controls that presented an intuitive means of operation and assisted the pilot to overcome the effects of altitude. During the 1930s, Edwin Link fashioned the first flight simulator based on a combination of ergonomics and aeromedical principles. With decades of data available by the time World War II came along, designers were able to create efficient weapons and equipment for the war effort.
It wasn't long before scientists and inventors began to mimic what was going on in the military with everyday items and processes in various fields. The automobile industry is one major example, another being civilian aviation.
With the dawn of the Information Age, computers as a field would be dramatically influenced by ergonomics. With the development of the personal computer (PC), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) became a driver for the business. As the PC evolved, a range of furniture and peripherals were created to complement the machine, most with ergonomics in their design. Command center furniture and the mouse are some of the better known examples of this at work. Control room consoles and data center consoles are examples of these designs at work in business and government.
Full-time specialists are sometimes employed by businesses and government to advance productivity. Finding ways to improve safety in the workplace is another component ergonomists factor into the decisions they make. Additionally, they consider all of the factors concerned with human interaction with the environment, such as climate, light, temperature. We continue to see new areas of interest for ergonomics, including fields as diverse as aviation, psychology, technology and highway safety.