Health and SafetyExecutiveErgonomics andhuman factors at workA brief guideIntroductionThis leaflet is aimed at employers, managers and others and will help youunderstand ergonomics and human factors in the workplace. It gives someexamples of ergonomics problems and simple, effective advice about howto solve them.You may have heard the term ‘ergonomics’. In some industries, such asmajor hazards, defence and transport, ergonomics is also called ‘humanfactors’. This leaflet helps to explain how applying ergonomics can improvehealth and safety in your workplace.This is a web-friendly versionof leaflet INDG90(rev3),published 03/13Ergonomics is a science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and theirwork. It puts people first, taking account of their capabilities andlimitations. Ergonomics aims to make sure that tasks, equipment,information and the environment fit each worker.To assess the fit between a person and their work, you have to considera range of factors, including:The job/task being done: The demands on the worker (activities, workload, work pacing, shiftwork and fatigue).The equipment used (its design in terms of size, shape, controls, displays, andhow appropriate it is for the task).The information used (how it is presented, accessed, and changed).The physical environment (temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, vibration).The individual’s physical and psychological characteristics: Body size and shape.Fitness and strength.Posture.The senses, especially vision, hearing and touch.Mental e.The organisation and social environment: Teamwork and team structure. Supervision and leadership.Page 1 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutive Supportive management. Communications. Resources.You will find a range of physical and psychological abilities in your workforce whichyou may need to take into account in designing the plant and equipment they use,and the tasks they perform.By assessing people’s abilities and limitations, their jobs, equipment and workingenvironment and the interaction between them, it is possible to design safe,effective and productive work systems.How can ergonomics and human factors improve healthand safety?Applying ergonomics to the workplace can: reduce the potential for accidents; reduce the potential for injury and ill health; improve performance and productivity.Taking account of ergonomics and human factors can reduce the likelihood of anaccident. For example, in the design of control panels, consider: the location of switches and buttons – switches that could be accidentally knocked on or off might start the wrong sequence of events that could lead toan accident;expectations of signals and controls – most people interpret green to indicate asafe condition. If a green light is used to indicate a ‘warning or dangerous state’it may be ignored or overlooked;information overload – if a worker is given too much information they maybecome confused, make mistakes, or panic. In hazardous industries, incorrectdecisions or mistaken actions have had catastrophic results.Ergonomics can also reduce the potential for ill health at work, such as aches,pains and damage to the wrists, shoulders and back, noise-induced hearing lossand work-related asthma. Consider the layout of controls and equipment – theyshould be positioned in relation to how they are used. Place those used most oftenwhere they are easy to reach without the need to stoop, stretch or hunch. Makingsure protective measures such as extraction hoods or respirators are easy andcomfortable to use means they are more likely to be effective at reducing exposureto hazardous substances.If you don’t follow ergonomics principles, there may be serious consequences forpeople and whole organisations. Many well-known accidents might have beenprevented if ergonomics and human factors had been considered in designingpeople’s jobs and the systems they worked in.What kind of workplace problems can ergonomics and humanfactors solve?Ergonomics is typically known for solving physical problems. For example, ensuringthat emergency stop buttons are positioned so that people can reach them readilywhen they need to. But ergonomics also deals with psychological and socialaspects of the person and their work. For example, a workload that is too high orErgonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 2 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutivetoo low, unclear tasks, time pressures, inadequate training, and poor support frommanagers can all have negative effects on people and the work they do.The following examples highlight some ‘typical’ ergonomic problems found in theworkplace:Design of tasks Work demands are too high or too low. The employee has little say in how they organise their work. Badly designed machinery guards (awkward to use or requiring additional effort) slow down the work.Conflicting demands, eg high productivity and quality. These problems can lead to employees failing to follow procedures or removingguards, causing accidents, injury and ill health. For more information handling The load is too heavy and/or bulky, placing unreasonable demands on the person.The load has to be lifted from the floor and/or above the shoulders.The job involves frequent repetitive lifting.The job requires awkward postures, such as bending or twisting.The load can’t be gripped properly.The job is performed on uneven, wet, or sloping floor surfaces.The job is performed under time pressures and doesn’t include enough restbreaks.These problems may lead to physical injuries, such as low back pain or injury to thearms, hands, or fingers. They may also contribute to the risk of slips, trips, and falls.For more information on manual handling, see layout Items that are used frequently are out of convenient reach. Inadequate space under work surface for legs. Work surface height inappropriate for the tasks causing awkward and uncomfortable postures.Lighting inadequate causing eyestrain when inspecting detail on work items.Chair not properly adjusted to fit the person and workstation.Managing the working day Not enough recovery time between shifts.Poor scheduling of shifts.Juggling shifts with domestic responsibilities.Employees working excessive overtime.These problems may lead to tiredness or exhaustion, which can increase thelikelihood of accidents and ill health. For more information see and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 3 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveHow can I check if there are ergonomics problems?Checking for human factors problems is part of your normal risk assessment process.The first step in a risk assessment is to identify the hazards. This can be done bytalking to employees and seeking their views, walking around your workplace to see ifyou can spot any hazards, and reviewing any accidents or reports of ill health you havehad in the past. You may find useful information about common ergonomics problemsin your industry on HSE’s website.Talking to employeesWorkplaces where employees are involved in taking decisions about health andsafety are safer and healthier. Collaboration with your employees helps you tomanage health and safety in a practical way by: helping you spot workplace risks; making sure health and safety controls are practical; increasing the level of commitment to working in a safe and healthy way.You are legally required to consult all your employees, in good time, on health andsafety matters. In workplaces where a trade union is recognised, this will bethrough union health and safety representatives. In non-unionised workplaces, youcan consult either directly or through other elected representatives.Consultation involves employers not only giving information to employees but alsolistening to them and taking account of what they say before making health andsafety decisions. Employees have important knowledge of the work they do,problems they have, and their impact on health, safety, and performance. Whiletalking to them, you could also ask them some specific questions about their worksuch as: are their working postures comfortable (or not)? do they experience discomfort, aches, pain, fatigue, or feel unable to keep up with the flow of work?is the equipment appropriate, easy to use and well maintained?is the person satisfied with their working arrangements?do they make the same errors and mistakes repeatedly?are they following procedures, and if not, why not?Hazard spottingWhile you walk around your workplace, look for signs of poor or inadequateequipment design such as: improvised tools; handwritten reminders, or handwritten labels on machinery controls; plasters on workers’ fingers or ‘home-made’ protective pads made of tissue orfoam.ReviewReview information you may already have about accidents and ill health which mayresult from human factors problems: Look at the circumstances that lead to frequent errors or incidents. Try toidentify the root causes of people’s mistakes. Use accident reports to identifydetails of incidents and their possible causes.Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 4 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutive Record and look at sickness absence and staff turnover levels. High numbersmay be because of the problems listed earlier and/or dissatisfaction at work.What can I do if I think I have identified an ergonomics problem? Talk to employees and get them to suggest ideas and discuss possible solutions. Involve employees from the start of the process – this will help themto adopt changes.Look for likely causes and consider possible solutions. A minor alteration maybe all that is needed to make a task easier and safer to perform. For example: arrange items stored on shelving so those used most frequently and thosethat are the heaviest are between waist and shoulder height; raise platforms to help operators reach badly located controls (or alternativelyrelocate the controls); remove obstacles from under desks so there is enough leg room; provide height-adjustable chairs, so individual operators can work at theirpreferred work height; change shift work patterns; introduce job rotation between different tasks to reduce physical and mentalfatigue.Always make sure any alterations are properly evaluated by the people doingthe job. Be careful that a change introduced to solve one problem doesn’tcreate difficulties somewhere else.You should be able to identify straightforward, inexpensive changes yourself.But you may need to ask a qualified ergonomist if you can’t find astraightforward solution or if a problem is complex.Adopting an ergonomics and human factors approach can save money in thelong term by avoiding costly accidents, reducing injuries, reducing sicknessabsence, and improving quality and productivity.There is a list of relevant HSE guidance at the end of this leaflet, includingpractical evaluation checklists and advice.Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 5 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveCase study 1Eddie works on an engine assembly line. He uses a handheld impact wrenchto fit a component to an engine. The assembly line makes up to 2400engines a day and it takes approximately 3 seconds to tighten each component.As well as the risk from using a vibrating tool, Eddie often had to adopt poorpostures to reach some parts of the engine. He had to repeatedly stretch outhis arm and constrain his posture while tightening the adapter. After a fewweeks Eddie found that he was leaving work with shoulder and neck pain.One tea break, Eddie’s line manager saw him rubbing his neck and shoulderand recognised that the pain could be due to the type of work Eddie wasdoing. The line manager spoke with Eddie and then told the company healthand safety officer about what she had seen.The company assessed the work by considering ergonomics principles and,after getting ideas from the workforce, came up with the following modifications: They replaced the impact wrench with one with minimal reaction force sothat little shock was transmitted to the hand. They also suspended thewrench so Eddie didn’t have to support its weight. They modified the workplace layout so workers had better access to allsides of the engine, avoiding the need to adopt poor working postures.Theyimplemented a job rotation scheme so the five workers on the line were moved around a number of different tasks.Some of these tasks still required the use of vibrating tools, but the overallpersonal exposure was halved. As a result of the modifications there was: a reduction in vibration exposure; no need to adopt poor and constrained postures; reduced boredom and fatigue for Eddie’s team; improved productivity.Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 6 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveCase study 2Julie is a receptionist at a bank. Much of her work involves using a telephoneto take messages and redirect calls to other departments. Julie regularly usesa computer to make appointments, record messages and respond to emails.After working at reception for eight months, Julie found she was leaving workwith an aching shoulder and neck, and with sore eyes and a headache. Julietalked about the problems with her manager, who decided to review howcomputers were used in reception.Her manager carried out a DSE assessment, and also looked at the work Juliewas doing at reception. The DSE assessment identified that Julie’s computer screen was difficult to read because of glare and reflections from light through the window. Thismeant that she would repeatedly adjust her posture to view the screen.In addition, her manager also identified that Julie would often hold thetelephone between her shoulder and ear while talking on the phone andtyping a message on the computer. She regularly adopted this awkwardposture during her working day.The assessment led to the introduction of simple, cost-effective measures toreduce the risks: With the help of her manager, Julie rearranged her workstation so that thescreen no longer faced the window, to remove the glare. An eye test to establish if Julie had any problems with her vision. A hands-free telephone headset was provided, which helped eliminate Julie’sneck and shoulder problems.As a result, Julie’s health problems diminished, and her productivityincreased.Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 7 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveCase study 3An operative’s hand was amputated after he became trapped in packagingmachinery while trying to clear a blockage. The machine was part of aproduction line. Workers were protected by a fence that enclosed severalproduction lines. Access to the machines was through a door in the fencewhich was arranged so that all production lines were switched off when itopened. Managers regularly visited the shop floor to talk about productiontargets.The workers had obtained an override key, so they could open the door andenter the enclosure without stopping production. But this meant themachinery was not isolated.Following the accident, these measures were identified to help prevent arecurrence: consulting workers about how and why the maintenance procedureswere difficult to follow;installinglocal guards so workers could isolate individual machines without stopping the other production lines; holding toolbox talks with the workforce to better communicatemanagement’s commitment to safe working.As a result of these changes, employees were less likely to take short cutswhen clearing blockages. There was also less down time on the productionlines which improved productivity.Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 8 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveWhere can I get more information?HSE publishes more detailed guidance on ergonomics and human factors inReducing error and influencing behaviour HSG48 (Second edition) HSE Books 1999ISBN 978 0 7176 2452 2 is more information on specific topics on the HSE names of ergonomics practitioners:Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors, Elms Court, Elms Grove, Loughborough,LE11 1RG Tel: 01509 234904 Website: [email protected] HSE publicationsConsulting employees on health and safety: A brief guide to the law LeafletINDG232(rev1) HSE Books 2008 the worker involvement website for more information on consulting with youremployees ( at work HSG38 (Second edition) HSE Books 1998ISBN 978 0 7176 1232 1 arms (or RSI) in small businesses: Is ill health due to upper limb disorders aproblem in your workplace? Leaflet INDG171(rev1) HSE Books the causes of work-related stress: A step-by-step approach using theManagement Standards HSG218 (Second edition) HSE Books 2007ISBN 978 0 7176 6273 9 handling at work: A brief guide Leaflet INDG143(rev3)HSE Books 2012 handling: Solutions you can handle HSG115 HSE Books 1994ISBN 978 0 7176 0693 1 error and influencing behaviour HSG48 (Second edition) HSE Books1999 ISBN 978 0 7176 2452 2 at work HSG57 (Third edition) HSE Books 1998 ISBN 978 0 7176 1231 limb disorders in the workplace HSG60 (Second edition) HSE Books 2002ISBN 978 0 7176 1978 8 with VDUs Leaflet INDG36(rev3) HSE Books health, safety and welfare: A short guide for managersLeaflet INDG244(rev2) HSE Books 2007 the risk assessment website for more information about risk cs and human factors at work: A brief guidePage 9 of 10

Health and SafetyExecutiveFurther informationFor information about health and safety, or to report inconsistencies or inaccuraciesin this guidance, visit You can view HSE guidance online andorder priced publications from the website. HSE priced publications are alsoavailable from bookshops.This guidance is issued by the Health and Safety Executive. Following the guidanceis not compulsory, unless specifically stated, and you are free to take other action.But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply withthe law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law andmay refer to this guidance.This leaflet is available in priced packs from HSE Books, ISBN 978 0 7176 6473 3.A web version can be found at Crown copyright If you wish to reuse this information visit for details. First published 03/13.Published by the Health and Safety Executive03/13INDG90(rev3)Page 10 of 10

Health and Safety Executive Ergonomics and human factors at work: A brief guide Page 5 of 10 Record and look at sickness absence and staff turnover levels. High numbers may be because of th