Summary and implications

Although not a topic that lends itself to brevity, human factors in eight words would be "the general impact of human error and behaviour". Human factors focuses on a range of different topics, including ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design and human capability. In fact, the terms human factors and ergonomics are often used synonymously, with human factors being commonly used in the United States and ergonomics in Europe.

The question is how various organisations have approached these challenges and applied what they have learnt to help control the risks of these factors.

At the heart of the issue has to be information-processing when considering, for example, eye scanning patterns, focus of attention, sensory cues, competing stimuli, task loading and user expectations. Typical systems issues in these applications involve the design, construction, maintenance and use of premises, as well as various products and transportation systems.

Product liability is an area of law in which individuals with expertise in human factors make significant contributions. The most commonly addressed areas are alleged product design defects, manufacturing defects, and failures to warn. Defects often involve core human factors/ergonomics principles affecting a user's reasonable expectations about products and their uses. The human factors/ergonomics approach in product cases focuses on the hierarchy of controls which specifies that dangerous features first be designed out of the product or, second, protected by shields or guards. Warnings, instructions, and/or training addressing proper use and any foreseeable misuse are required if the other two options are not possible.

Human factors works to apply principles of psychology to designing products and creating work environments that boost productivity while minimising safety issues. Attention first focused on human factors during World War II, when a range of experts worked together to improve the safety of aeroplanes. Since that time, human factors has continued to grow and today plays an important role in many other fields, including computing, manufacturing, product design, engineering, military and government industries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.