Human-factors engineering | Definition, Ergonomics, & Examples

Human-factors engineering | Definition, Ergonomics, & Examples

The term human factors engineering or HFE illustrates a scientific discipline that involves several areas of research and development. Even if there are many definitions, the meaning is the same. When you come across the term ergonomics or human factors, they should not confuse you. They are other names for HFE. When we design anything that interacts efficiently with humans, we practice human factors. Ergonomics aims to minimize human error, boost productivity, increase safety, and ensure comfort. Human factors are related to how humans interact with the products, processes, tools, industrial plants, and other elements they encounter in the world.


There are many definitions, including the International Ergonomics Association definition. It describes human factors as a scientific discipline and profession that applies data, techniques, principles, and theory to a design to enhance the overall performance of a system and maximize human satisfaction. A product design should satisfy the intended user. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society have their definition too. It views human factors as the application of the knowledge we have about humans and their personalities, abilities, and shortcomings to the design of the appliances they use, the surroundings in which they work, and the tasks they perform. We have definitions from Scientific Literature, NASA, Wikipedia, and other sources. We have paraphrased some, so you need to visit these resources to read more. Even if these definitions have different words, the main message is the same.

Human Factors Engineering Practitioners

All industries make products for humans. None of them can avoid human factors in the production phase. Those who practice human factors and ergonomics hail from all backgrounds. The top practitioners are engineers like computer scientists, designers, psychologists, and anthropologists. These practitioners strive to apply human factors knowledge to prototypes and construction of machines, software, products, workflow systems, and more.

Human Factors Engineering Practitioners

They aim to offer tangible and intangible products that can reduce the likelihood of human error, safety hazards, poor job performance, and so on. When constructing industrial equipment, producers should consider the health, safety, comfort, and welfare of personnel. They also want to reduce the risk of poor performance due to the design of plants and equipment.

The risks of not considering human factors in industrial settings

When engineers fail to consider human factors engineering in their design work, issues can arise. Certain design issues in their machines can affect those intended to use them. For instance, the layouts of the machinery may not support efficient workflow or sequence of operations.

Additionally, the equipment framework may be too awkward that the user cannot remove faulty parts without undoing many functional components. If the equipment is a crane or fork lifter, it might have poor sight-lines. These can affect job performance. A poor machine design may cause it to protrude into humans’ pathways. As a result, it can increase the odds of safety hazards happening. Moreover, plants and equipment might lack adequate storage spaces or have unsuitable stairway designs.

Effects of ergonomics in the health sector

Ignoring human factors engineering when designing medical devices can be risky. The humans interacting with such devices may misuse them and increase the likelihood of hurting patients. Some health devices can help sick people at home.

If medical device designers ignore HFE principles, their devices might become too complicated for users to understand and use them. As a result, human errors can happen and create safety concerns for patients. Better designs can reduce risks; enhance the hospital working environment, and give doctors confidence in their work.

Poor product design can impact human work performance negatively. When a health worker has a lot to do, and a machine cannot help, they might develop stress. Also, a health worker may be in an emergency situation, prompting them to use a device to save a life. If they cannot use the device fast and correctly, the patient in dire need of help could die.

Effects of ergonomics in the health sector

A product with a poor design can lower productivity and create costly problems. Users can develop fatigue too soon or lose concentration when they cannot figure out a machine. In human factors engineering, practitioners have to identify design flaws that may affect job performance in hospitals.

What tools do practitioners use in Human factors and ergonomics?

Industries that produce oil, gas, and chemicals must use ergonomics tools. Examples of these are 3D modeling, staffing assessment, critical task analysis, alarm system review, training needs analysis, workload assessment, and valve criticality analysis.

As human factors represent different areas of research and development, the best tool per industry may vary. No matter what tools they use to implement HFE, the main thing is to produce things that humans can interact with. Users should easily understand a product to ensure they use it for the function it serves.

Understanding the purpose of an item is not everything. Users should feel comfortable when grasping the product. They are unlikely to produce errors in usage if the handle feels comfortable and sturdy. Still, they cannot hurt themselves or others when the grip is good.

Human Factors are all around us

Human factors engineering in the design phase ensures the selection of durable and suitable construction materials. When designing office chairs, designers must think about the user’s posture. Most people sit on their office chairs for over eight hours. Although they can get up and move around, they still sit for hours. The wrong chair design can harm their lower back, and trigger health issues that are costly to treat. Human factors are all are around you. The household appliances you use at home are an element of HFE. Even the vehicle you drive can be dangerous had the manufacturer ignored human factors during construction. It is not a complicated field at all, even if the phrase sounds too scientific.

Human Factors are all around us

Where to look if you want to read further?

This article is an introduction to the broad field of human factors engineering. It cannot possibly teach you everything you would like to learn about ergonomics. If you need to read further, pay attention to these areas:

HFE in oil and gas projects

The oil and gas industry players must apply human factors in the entire project lifecycle. By reading a report on these projects, you can identify various HFE activities and the dangers of not addressing them. The best report is the 2011 International Association of Oil and Gas Producers Report _IOGP Report 454. While the data appearing in this report may directly help those in Oil and Gas field, it can support related industries.

Workplaces and environments

As a manager or CEO, observing occupational safety and health administration codes at your workplace is a priority. To succeed, you should know how to create a good design of work and work processes. For your inspiration, consider reading Safe Work Australia (2015) handbook. It contains ten principles to follow when developing a good work design. The book explains the importance of a good work design, how to come up with it, and how to design good work.

Safety in healthcare environments

If you produce medical devices, or work in the healthcare sector, you interact with human engineering daily. You might need knowledge on how to design user-centered health facilities. The best report to read maybe National Patient Safety Agency, March 2010. It summarizes lessons from high hazard industries and safety-critical sectors like the healthcare sector. It explains how to consider human factors in every stage of health facility development.

Final Word

Now you know all about human factors. If you look around, you will find many examples of human factors. It ensures that various product designs are easy to understand and use without harming us. You can read the reports recommended above and others on the internet to understand this topic well.

If you need help turning your idea into a finished product, get in touch with the GloberDesign team today. From idea sketching to 3d modeling to engineering, this company can really help you.