Ergonomics: From Stone Tools to Control Console Furniture
  • The field of ergonomics has shaped the way we live our lives.

    Ergonomics concerns itself with perfecting the interfacing of the human body with tools and systems. The discipline is often employed in the workplace to optimize performance and improve employee morale. The home is another location that continues to benefit from this discipline. These considerations provide additional health benefits in the form of the prevention of repetitive strain injuries or numerous disorders. Ergonomics also seeks to make up for limitations that people have, particularly helpful in the case of people with disabilities.

    Ergonomic principles have been observed in societies as far back as Greece in the fifth century BC. Tools used by Greek workers were refined over time, providing the foundation of ergonomics. Historians have also claimed that surgeons in Ancient Egypt had arranged surgical tools in a manner which made their use more practical. A formal definition came under the organizational supervision of Frederick Winslow Taylor who sought to find the optimal method of carrying out any task. Taylor, in one example, found that by reducing the weight of the shovels used to shovel coal, the coal output could be tripled.

    Similar considerations have long shaped the development and the effectiveness of warfare. Of particular interest during the years of World War I was the new field of combat aviation. The subjects ranged from the design of controls to feel intuitive and means of overcoming or dealing with the effects of altitude. Edwin Link had developed the first functioning flight simulator by the 1930s, inspired by ergonomics. With early research in military matters, ergonomics inspired a wide range of efficient vehicles and equipment to be used in World War II.

    It wasn't long before scientists and inventors began to mimic what was going on in the military with everyday items and processes in various fields. The automobile industry, for instance, used these ideas to make vehicles safer and more efficient.

    Perhaps the next largest impact on industry came with the dawn of the Information Age and the rise of the computer. Based on human factors, the new field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) gained a great deal of interest in the 1980s with the popularity of the personal computer (PC). The PC led to the creation of a broad range of devices and furniture, often with ergonomic considerations in their design. The mouse, molded to fit the human hand, and control console furniture, which complements the human body, are some of the many examples. Business and government have made use of the same thinking in the design of their furnishings, in control room consoles and data center consoles, for example.

    Some businesses and government have opted to employ full-time specialists in ergonomics to constantly upgrade productivity. Safety is another concern of these specialists, working to implement new rules or features which enable a safer work environment. All aspects of human activity are considered, including environmental elements such as light, temperature and climate. Today, these specialists can be found employed in most fields, some of which include aviation, computer technologies, highway safety, psychology and engineering.

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