History of Ergonomics

It is interesting to note that the principle behind the History of Ergonomics has been in existence for a long time.

To explain what is ergonomics, we can say that people across different cultures have always sought to do things differently and easier in order to reduce the level of physical and emotional stress they undergo.

In 2000, the International Ergonomics Association defined ergonomics as (paraphrased)

the scientific discipline that analyzes the effect of interactions between humans and their surroundings.

Ergonomics thus applies a number of principles and methodologies in various forms of design with the end objective being to improve human well-being as well as overall system and human performance.

Thus, the two primary aims of history of ergonomics can stated as the attainment of good health and productivity. Some of the most well known uses of ergonomics include the design of people friendly furniture, easy to use computer interfaces as well as safe-to-operate machinery.


Until very recently when ergonomics has become a fairly widespread and accepted part of ordinary lingo, ergonomics was considered a new and far flung concept.

But the truth in the history of ergonomics... is that ergonomics is not such a new concept after all - the only new thing is the word 'ergonomics'.

The principle behind it has been in existence for a very long time. Human beings across different cultures have always sought to do things differently and easier in order to reduce the level of physical and emotional stress they undergo. And it goes as far back as early man who made tools from crude items such as pebbles and bones and fashioned them in a way that made tasks easier. It is from these rudimentary foundations that humanity has moved to the level of mechanical and technological advancement that can be seen today.

However, much of the thinking behind ergonomics remained something etched at the back of designers for a long time. It was not until the 16th century, when Bernardino Ramazinni wrote a medical journal about complaints from his patients where he described the various injuries they had and how they were related to their occupations and work environments. The name of the publication was 'De Morbis Artificum (Diseases of Workers)' and this laid the foundations for a better understanding of ergonomics.

Ergonomics = Scientific Management

Even then, the term 'ergonomics' did not arise until 1857, when it was created and used by Wojciech Jastrzebowski in a narrative he wrote about the science of nature.

'Ergon' means work while 'nomos'; means natural law - thus, when the two words are combined, ergonomics means 'how to work according to nature' as opposed to working in contradiction to the 'laws of nature'. But there was still more that was need for the importance of ergonomics to catch on with the greater industrial and manufacturing sectors.

In the 19th century the 'scientific management'; method was introduced by Frederick Winslow Taylor. This method was aimed at increasing the efficacy of a worker by improving the process of the task.

For example, Taylor found out that by reducing the weight and size of coal shovels, the amount of coal being shoveled by workers could be tripled. These ideas led to reduced work injuries and an increase in production levels. This indicates the use of basic ergonomic concepts at that time.

'Time and Motion' Studies Led to Increase in Productivity

In the 1900s Frank and Lillian Gilbreth further expanded Taylor's methods and came up with the 'Time and Motion Studies'.

The Gilbreths looked at the different techniques that would help reduce the amount of unnecessary motions required to perform a task.

For instance, the study helped reduce the number of motions required in bricklaying thus allowing bricklayers to actually increase productivity from 120 up to 350 bricks an hour. With this, ergonomics as a discipline had clearly found its footing.

Ergonomics affected World War II

If the Gilbreths gave ergonomics exposure, World War II placed it firmly on the world map.

During World War II in 1943, it became clear that air-crafts in good condition and which were flown by the best of pilots still saw numerous crashes.

An army officer, Alphonse Chapanis came up with a way of greatly reducing the "pilot errors" by replacing confusing designs in airplane cockpits with more logical controls.

For more information, see examples of Ergonomics.

For more information and the reference on the history of ergonomics see the following sites:

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergonomics

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_ergonomics.





Thank you for reading 'History of Ergonomics'!

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