Ergonomics, according to the International ergonomics Association (IEA), is the scientific discipline that deals with the understanding of interactions between humans and the other elements of a system.
It is also the profession that concretely applies theories, principles, data and methods to design systems. The objectives are to optimize the well-being of people as well as the performance of systems as a whole.
Even if the ergonomist is often linked to the field of occupational health, ergonomics contributes to the improvement and design of work situations in a global way. The ergonomics profession, therefore, aims to improve tools and products in order to facilitate their use, preserve the health of workers or users, but also to promote the reliability, quality and efficiency of systems. production in a perspective of sustainable and global performance.
In short, ergonomics seeks to understand work as a whole in order to better contribute to the design or transformation of the different elements of work by acting on the determinants.
The different facets of ergonomics
Ergonomics is a little-known field that has several facets. We can thus speak of physical ergonomics, in particular concerning the evaluation of workstations, cognitive ergonomics, when the study relates to the mental load for example, or organizational ergonomics when the subject touches work organization.
Ergonomists also act in many spheres related to both products and work. Simply, we can say that we find ergonomists working in connection with the ergonomics of products such as cars, household appliances or software as well as in connection with the ergonomics of work situations.
Ergonomists are also working halfway between these two worlds when it comes to architecture and during the design of buildings such as hospitals, libraries, etc.
Finally, the ergonomist is called upon to intervene before or following the appearance of problems in the work situation. The ergonomist can therefore act early, for example, when designing a building, a new product or even a new service. It is then about the design ergonomics.
This proactive method of acting upstream is generally less expensive in the medium and long term, because properly designing and planning a new work situation represents only a modest investment versus the cost of an incomplete, unsatisfactory implementation or even that may require a revision. .
When the ergonomist intervenes following the appearance of problems, we speak of corrective ergonomics. This mode of intervention is the most frequent and, unfortunately,
Purpose and methods of ergonomics
In a work context, the ergonomist aims to find satisfactory solutions between the needs of individuals (health, comfort, skills, etc.) and those of companies (productivity, quality, cost, time, etc. etc.). In this sense, ergonomists can offer recommendations concerning technical elements (desks, chairs, etc.), work organization and training.
In order to propose, recommend and implement the recommendations adopted, the ergonomist uses different concrete methods of analysis, observation and maintenance in the field and in real work situations. The ergonomist then seeks to study what is called the work activity.
Work activity relates to the effort required to achieve objectives. This therefore includes the work task and also concerns what the worker mobilizes from a physical, mental or psychological point of view. To achieve the objectives, the ergonomist will take into account, in particular, the characteristics of individuals, their objectives, the meaning that the work has for them, then the objectives of the company or the institution, the work environment and organizational, etc.
The links between work and health in ergonomics
Ergonomics offers an original approach to occupational health, opening up new perspectives for action for managers. This approach has its source in the work of the philosopher Canguilhem.
Canguilhem’s point of view makes it possible to distinguish the mechanisms of disease evolution and health. The normal and the pathological are understood as two different dynamics of the confrontation of the individual with his environment, what the author calls vital normativity.
In this confrontation is played the capacity of the individual to dominate, to control his environment. The disease is then understood as a restriction of this interaction: that is to say the inability of the individual to impose his standards on his environment when he no longer has any room for maneuver with regard to his environment and its variations.
Through this definition of health that Canguilhem provides us, if we transpose it into the business world, work forms this confrontation with the environment, it therefore becomes the support for the dynamics of health and that of disease. When looking at the field of work, the worker, when his work environment makes it possible, will take actions allowing him to control his environment.
He will also be able to build new action strategies allowing him to keep control, despite the variability of work situations. From an operational point of view, this means that ergonomics not only seeks to avoid degradation of workers’ health, but also seeks to create a work environment conducive to the development of capacities, skills and other complex human aspects. We are trying to create what we call an empowering work environment.