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Prospective Ergonomics

André Liem(Autor*in)
Wiley-ISTE (Verlag)
Erschienen am 30. Oktober 2017
188 Seiten
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978-1-119-47522-4 (ISBN)
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This book argues for a prospective turn in ergonomics to challenge the established fields of strategic design (SD) and management. Its multi-disciplinary outlook builds upon concepts derived from Management, Innovation and Design Science.
Differences, similarities and relationships between strategic design and prospective ergonomics are reviewed using existing theories and frameworks from design, ergonomics, and strategic and innovation management. To complement the theory, 12 cases have been analyzed in greater depth according to 4 main dimensions of analysis. Outcomes have shown that innovating through the Prospective Ergonomics (PE) approach is about finding the right balance between, on the one hand, meeting primary objectives such as profit maximization or solving the design problem, and on the other, acknowledging that human activity is bounded by rationality. This means that humans have diverse motives.
1. Auflage
John Wiley & Sons
6,37 MB
978-1-119-47522-4 (9781119475224)
Schweitzer Klassifikation
Thema Klassifikation
DNB DDC Sachgruppen
Dewey Decimal Classfication (DDC)
BISAC Klassifikation
Warengruppensystematik 2.0
1. Perspectives and Transitions in Ergonomics.
2. Management and Ergonomic Approaches toward Innovation and Design.
3. Ergonomic Interventions on Management Frameworks.
4. Research Organization.
5. Analysis of 12 Design Case Studies.
6. Cross-Comparison of Cases.
7. Discussion.

Perspectives and Transitions in Ergonomics

In this chapter, a historical introduction as well as an overview of the present and prospective developments of ergonomics will be given. The aim is to provide an outline for approaching theory building within prospective ergonomics (PE), which in Chapters 2 and 3 will be aligned with ancillary fields of strategic design, innovation, systems and industrial design. To contextualize the work, a range of design approaches, such as systems design, design driven and human/user-centered design, will be introduced with respect to different ergonomic perspectives.

Moreover, this chapter sets the tone for developing the construct of prospection and prospective ergonomics by arguing that this new field of ergonomics is driven by a focus on well-being, by being future oriented and design driven and by the fact that product-service innovation, performance and profit should be sought after within systematically embedded contexts. From this perspective of prospection, the intention is to contextually bring the study of preventive and corrective ergonomics closer to the fields of design and strategic management. Consequences are that with the proliferation of services, human-product interactions and sustainable design, where innovation is usually a concern of many stakeholders, the field of preventive ergonomics is extended to PE and design to strategic design. To conclude this introductory chapter as well as initiate the formation and application of theoretical frameworks, it has been brought forward that pluralism toward the creation of new products and services is a typical trait of PE, which enhances company's competitive advantage.

1.1. History and definition of ergonomics

Ergonomics is the scientific discipline investigating the interaction between humans and artifacts and the design of systems where people participate. It applies systematic methods and knowledge about people to evaluate and approve the interactions between individuals, technology and organizations at work and during leisure. The purpose of design activities is to match systems, jobs, products and environments to the physical and mental abilities and limitations of people [HEL 97]. The aim is to create a working environment (as far as possible) that contributes to achieving healthy, effective and safe operations.

The study of ergonomics (Gr. ergon + nomos) was originally defined and proposed by the Polish scientist Jastrzebowski in 1857, as a scientific discipline with a very broad scope and a comprehensive range of interests and applications, encompassing each human activity, including labor, entertainment, reasoning and dedication [KAR 05]. A historical overview of ergonomics will be presented in the textbox below to make certain events explicit, where business strategies, the design of products and services, and different ergonomic interventions connect. The historical timeline indicates that ergonomics has engaged in systemic ways of strategizing as early as the beginning of 20th Century ergonomics. However, only in the past 25 years has ergonomics gained acceptance among business managers.

According to Perrow [PER 83], the problem of ergonomics is that too few ergonomists work in companies, that they have no control over budgets and people, and that they are seen solely as protectors of workers, rather than creators of products, systems and services. Presently, the value of ergonomics extends beyond occupational health and safety and related legislation. While maintaining health and safety of consumers and workers, ergonomics has become more valuable in supporting company's business strategies to stay competitive. This has led to the acceptance of the following broader definition of ergonomics:

  • - ergonomics (or human factors) is a scientific discipline, which aims to develop an understanding about the interaction between humans and other system elements. Furthermore, the profession applies theory, principles, data and design methods to optimize human well-being and overall system performance [IEA 00];
  • - compared to Jastrzebowski's definition, the field of ergonomics has become more proactive with respect to problem solving, design, functional usability and the planning of innovative products and services [ROB 09]. Given this emphasis on ergonomics, the link between business strategies and ergonomics is being established through their common interest in creating and designing improved or new products. Companies are increasingly aware that innovation is essential for maintaining a competitive advantage. As all innovations start with a creative idea [AMA 96], which is both novel and suited to the context of the task [BON 09], it has been acknowledged that end-users of products and services can be important resources for product design and innovation [KRI 02, VON 86]. Within the traditions of preventive ergonomics, user involvement is considered essential for the development of user-friendly product and services, and the participatory design methods and tools that have been developed could be useful for linking ergonomics with product and service innovation.

Figure 1.1. Interaction among product and service design, business strategies and preventive ergonomics toward prospective ergonomics

Nowadays ergonomics in industry has the dual purpose of promoting both productivity and "well-being" during and related to working conditions. The continuous search for an optimized balance between productivity and favorable working conditions has given rise to a relatively new type of ergonomics, which is "prospective ergonomics". The focus of this work is to promote a "prospective turn" to ergonomics as an important feature in strategy formulation and innovation. This means that attention to PE and strategic design can be an important element of how a company realizes its competitive advantage. Figure 1.1 depicts how the interaction between product and service design, business strategies and preventive ergonomics as an emergent field of ergonomics, namely PE, could be envisioned. Consequently, PE redefines the ergonomic profession to be more design and business oriented. However, with its original focus on human well-being and anticipation of hidden future needs, the business orientation of PE is pluralistic rather than being purely driven by performance and profit maximization. In practice, this means that the ergonomist must consider the dynamic context of the firm and understand the different strategic objectives of stakeholders [DUL 09].

A historical overview of ergonomics

In the 18th Century, Ramazinni published "The diseases of workers", where he documented the connection between occupational hazards and different types of work performed. For example, he described how repetitive hand motions, constrained body posture and excessive mental stress caused cumulative trauma disorders.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, LaMettrie published a controversial piece of work: L'homme Machine (1748), where he outlined that differences in machine and human capabilities are sensitive, and that one can learn much about human behavior by considering how machines operate. For example, the comparison of robots and humans has facilitated our understanding of how industrial tasks should be designed to fit humans better [HEL 95]. According to Rosenbrock [ROS 83], the concept of human-centered design was introduced as early as the industrial revolution through tools, such as spinning machines (spinning mule) used to spin cotton and other fibers. The aim was to allocate interesting tasks to the human operator, but let the machine handle repetitive ones.

The emphasis in ergonomics at the beginning of the 20th Century was largely attributed to Frederick Taylor's "scientific study of work". However, his name and work have negative connotations and provoke strong reactions from labor unions and worker's welfare organizations. In the period round 1900, Taylor examined and scrutinized in what is called the "Taylor system", how activities were carried out, what movements people made and how much time it took them using time and motion studies. Next, he determined how productivity can be optimized by executing all operations as effectively as possible as in the minimum amount of time, which resulted in rushed systems, assembly line production, etc.

In the same tradition, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth developed time and motion studies to divide ordinary jobs into several small microelements, called "therbligs" [KON 92]. These objections against Taylorism have resulted in much research to select, classify and train human operators from a well-being rather than productivity perspective. Rejecting the element of exploitation, the current focus is on ergonomics design of environments and artifacts, which means "fitting the task to the person", not "fitting the person to the task".

Ergonomics emerged as a scientific discipline in the 1940s because of the growing realization that most people were not able to understand and use the equipment to its full potential and exploits its benefits, as technical equipment became increasingly complex. Focusing on the well-being of workers and manufacturing productivity, the field started to engage in industrial applications in the 1950s and has used information and concepts from work physiology, biomechanics and anthropometry for designing workstations and processes.

As the discipline evolved, variations in terminology emerged in...

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