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Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics

AICTE via Swayam


Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE) is central to supporting the design, evaluation, operation and maintenance of human-centric systems in a variety of disciplines ranging from and not limited to design, engineering and management. As a realm of knowledge, HFE transcends disciplinary boundaries. However, in its current practice in India, HFE has remained highly fractured in academic settings. HFE’s multifaceted nature is displayed in myriad instances in various silos of individual disciplines of design, engineering, psychology and physiology. The fractured state of HFE is also partly due to the manner in which it is institutionalized in various academic disciplines in India. Typically, HFE thrives under the banner of “applied psychology” in psychology departments, where it is studied as a subset of behavior; as “ergonomics” in physiology departments where the primary insights are from physiological and physical basis of the body; and as “human factors engineering” in industrial and systems engineering departments. While the list continues, a more urgent need is to characterize HFE succinctly as a holistic transdisciplinary sector of knowledge to support design and innovation in human centric systems. The aim of this course is to provide such a comprehensive transdisciplinary and holistic understanding and basic sensitivity towards HFE. This course will have a practical and positive effect on the manner in which HFE is engaged by professional sectors in India. The course is divided into seven modules. Module 1 provides a generic set of ideas that forms a basis for addressing HFE. Module 2 addresses the cognitive basis of HFE and module 3 the physical and physiological basis of HFE. In module 4, we shift our focus towards the physical environment of human performance as well as the design of work spaces. In Module 5, we take a step towards understanding the sociocultural environment and organizational dimension of HFE. In module 6, we comprehended the challenges associated with large scale systems. Finally, we conclude module 7 with ways in which HFE can be successfully integrated in organizations. Thus, this course will provide a holistic basis for engaging HFE and using it for informing designers, engineers and managers alike. In turn, enabling a more humane and sensitive practice of human-centered systems for promoting well-being, productivity and overall systems performance. A central aspect of this course is its transdisciplinary nature and an explicit avowal towards developing a holistic viewpoint for the comprehensive study of HFE. The various modules of this course highlights the dimensions of HFE that will be useful for a broader set of audience comprising of Designers, Engineers, Managers, Psychologists, Sociologists, and other allied health sectors, in order to enable a humane approach to human-centric systems.


Module 1
Key theme(s): Designing for people, technologies, organizations and environments as systems

Introduction to the various aspects of HFE
  • HFE in relation to technology
  • Human Knowing and Acting
  • Teamwork and Organizational dimension
  • Large-scale systems (safety and accidents)
  • Background of HFE
  • Meaning of Ergonomics
  • Why is it Human Factors and Ergonomics?
  • Breadth and scope of HFE

Brief History of HFE
  • Earlier origins of human scale in everyday contexts
  • Modern times and the advent of the factory system
  • Brief understanding of human relations and industrial psychology
  • World War II and human operators
  • Nuclear power and the operator
  • Product Ergonomics, Cognitive Systems Engineering and beyond
  • Next steps in HFE?
What constitutes essential aspects of HFE?
  • Systems approach
  • Design-driven
  • Performance and well-being (capabilities and limitations)
  • Need to link human performance + macro variables (organizational background) + systems design
  • Humans as participants in a co-design process
Example: HFE in Transportation
Module 2
Key theme: Human Knowing in technological contexts
  • Vision and Perception
  • Cognition
  • Information processing approach
  • Attention and memory
  • Lapses in attention and memory, Types of memory
  • Human decision making

Module 3
Key theme: Human Acting in technological contexts
  • Challenges of different demographics
  • Anthropometrics
  • How does anthropometrics help in design?
  • Body and activity systems
  • Lifting, grasping, pushing and pulling
  • Occupational challenges and muscoskeletal disorders
  • Workplace injuries

Module 4
Key theme: The physical context of human knowing and acting
  • Varieties of work environments
  • Issues related to lighting and sound
  • HFE outside in everyday world
  • Everyday environment and risks
  • Social environment
  • Safety-critical environments
  • Work Space design based on HFE principles

Module 5
Key theme: The sociocultural context of HFE (Organizational dimension)

  • Organizational culture
  • Group and teams dynamics
  • Personality and management styles
  • Leadership styles
  • Job Characteristics and design

Module 6
Key theme: HFE and large scale systems (safety, risk and accidents)
  • HFE and large scale systems
  • Complexity and systems: dynamism, complexity, uncertainty
  • Uncertainty as a fundamental challenge in human performance; coping with the unexpected
  • Dynamic Challenges in large-scale systems not typically present in simple systems
  • Challenges of human behavior in large scale systems, complex interlinkages with technology.
  • Human errors in complex systems
  • Moving beyond human error: beyond the blame game?
  • HFE in relation to safety, risks and accidents

Module 7
Key theme: HFE integration

  • Recap of the last 6 modules: Cognitive; Physical (and physiological); Organizational
  • HFE integration with design, systems and management – the road ahead
  • Step-by-step integration
  • Worker involvement
  • Catering to operators, managers and end users
  • Building an organizational culture for Human factors improvement
  • Understanding work from a human perspective
  • Systems approach + Design-driven + Performance and well-being
  • Reinforcing key themes from each session of the course

Taught by

Vivek Kant, Ph.D.

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