Jim Knowles Group – July 2005 (Also available as a Publication)


There are many hundreds of textbooks and thousands of papers written on ergonomics and human factors in design. Most contain detailed information that is useful to the specialist or the professional when solving ergonomics problems. However, their technical nature may confuse the non-ergonomist and they may require specialist interpretation. Ergonomics is often straightforward as much of it is commonsense. At the same time, its application may not be obvious or easy because it involves people and people are complicated. The difficulties in applying ergonomics lie in the differences between people and how these can be accommodated.

The combination of sex, age, experience, education, fitness and health, inherent abilities and social values makes every person unique. Everybody can draw on his or her own experience, knowledge and skills to say what is reasonable to expect a person to do but we know that this works only part of the time.

Many jobs contain unnecessary and potentially damaging design faults and organisational obstacles that compound the intrinsic difficulties of the tasks. Normal job demands may then become hurdles increasing errors and reducing productivity and efficiency. These hurdles can also lead to risks to workers’ health and safety. For many people it is often difficult to know where the reasonable cut-off point is between completing tasks and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Unfortunately there are very few books available that cater for the needs of workers and their supervisors who have no formal education in ergonomics principles and application. Those that do exist tend to concentrate on the problems of office and industrial work and there are significant gaps when trying to identify and solve problems outside those areas. Nevertheless workers and their supervisors in all occupations in Australia are now actively involved in solving ergonomics problems at work. Usually these are primarily related to occupational health and safety issues but increasingly they also relate to productivity, efficiency, and job satisfaction.

Recognising and solving ergonomics problems requires some knowledge and teamwork. This handbook aims to provide some basic information on ergonomics principles and how workers and supervisors may apply these, particularly for the prevention of health and safety problems at work.

This Handbook is designed as a ‘map’ of ergonomics: its scope and application in the workplace rather than a complete summary of all issues. It provides introductory material in the form of general principles and guidance that might be of use to people working in heavy industry such as mining, construction, agriculture, forestry and the utilities. For the most part it steers away from recipe solutions and concentrates on the process of ergonomics problem solving. It does not attempt to repeat what is adequately covered in other publications. Key Principles for sections are included. The reading list (Further Reading) is  intended to provide access to further, more detailed or specialised information on different topics. However, it is suggested that when seeking solutions for groups of people, particularly at the beginning of the process, a professional ergonomist can assist in the interpretation of technical material.