Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Ergonomics Society


  The Ergonomics Society is the learned society, which brings together those professionals working in the field of ergonomics and human factors. Ergonomics is the process of fitting jobs, equipment, and leisure situations etc to people: designing to optimise performance, safety and comfort taking account of human limitations, making good use of their capacities and meeting their needs.

  It involves the application of psychological, physiological and biomechanics principles. The most important aim is to reduce the likelihood of physical and mental (stress related) injuries and the possibility of human error which could have (as in the case of aircraft, nuclear power, railways etc) catastrophic consequences.


  There is a general failure by those concerned in the design of domestic equipment, the built environment, travel situations and work places to consider ergonomics unless they are prompted. Users will often overcome shortcomings by being adaptable and through extra physical effort or by extra learning. As people get older, however, this becomes more difficult.

  Older people ought to be routinely considered as potential users of equipment, tools, products and environments, in both work and leisure situations. At work, the design of tasks and equipment should make allowance for the manner in which our strength, flexibility, eyesight and hearing, for example, change as we get older. The Ergonomics Society is collaborating with HSE for a conference of experts, to be held in April 2000, considering the implications of an ageing workforce for well being at work. In the home and leisure situations, older people are at substantially greater risk of accidents involving wide ranging aspects of the environment, many of the injuries from which would be preventable with improved design of the surroundings.

  The contribution ergonomics can bring to extending quality of life are twofold. Firstly, the ergonomics community are experts at collating and applying knowledge about the abilities and limitations of humans of all ages, including older people. The Adult Data anthropometric database compiled by ergonomists at Nottingham University is an example of a recent government project collecting new data in this respect. Another illustration is DTI sponsored work at Loughborough University, examining how people keep and use their stairs. Increased understanding of this should help in reducing fall accidents. Ergonomists also have a battery of methods for developing and evaluating designs and activities. These have been applied in examples such as the design of medicine bottles that can be opened by older adults but not children; development of in-vehicle route navigation systems for older drivers; the design of transport interchanges that accommodate those with limited mobility, the development of a suit to restrict motion, allowing designers to simulate the consequences of conditions such as arthritis; and the design of controls and displays on domestic goods, such as washing machines, to ease use by those with reduced eyesight or manual dexterity.


  In this short note the aim is to bring to the notice of the Inquiry the existence of The Society and the importance of the subject. We would be very pleased to send in more detailed evidence, to respond to questions and give oral evidence.

January 2000

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