The Difference between Human Factors and Ergonomics

August 6, 2020

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as, “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” This definition identifies the importance of human-centered design.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) builds on this concept to define the role of ergonomics in the workplace. According to AIHA, the goal of ergonomics is to decrease risk of musculoskeletal injuries and illness, decrease worker discomfort and improve the quality of work life, and to improve worker performance.

This is an essential aspect of ergonomics. The reason we strive for a human-centered approach to the design of work is to both minimize the risk of injuries and illness, and to improve quality of life and performance. To put it simply, ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.

Humans naturally lean towards efficiency. We tend to take the path of least resistance and to do things that reduce our exposure to physical risk for harm as long as it doesn’t slow us down. When we propose solutions that make work easier, safer, and faster, we create a pathway to success for the worker and for businesses.

‘Human factors’ is another phrase for the concept of ergonomics. Conventionally, the two are sometimes differentiated according to the physical and psychological aspects of the human. Psychological capabilities are more commonly associated with human factors, while physical aspects are more commonly associated with ergonomics. But, at the end of the day, the two terms can be considered synonyms.

Regardless of whether you prefer human factors, ergonomics, or human factors and ergonomics (HF/E), comprehensive practice requires expertise from multiple disciplines including industrial design, psychology, medicine and occupational health, physiology, anatomy, and engineering.

If you’re interested in expanding your ergonomics education, COEH offers an online course on the Foundations for Cognitive, Macro, and Physical Human Factors and Ergonomics (HF/E).

You can also check out our free online library of webinars on YouTube, which includes talks on Ergonomic Tips for Working and Schooling at Home During COVID-19, and Using Anthropometry, Biomechanics, and Usability to Inform Product Design produced in partnership with the Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety at the University of Washington.