KANBrief 1/21

The DIN Ergonomics standards committee: 50 years on

Action by companies is particularly conducive to success when consideration is given to human factors. Standards governing ergonomics contain a wealth of guidance for companies. For 50 years, such standards have communicated fundamental principles of ergonomics, presented important concepts in the sphere of human factors, and created a recognized body of rules for the design of work and products.

The standardization of ergonomics, which forges an important link between research and industry, also addresses future issues of work design, and seeks solutions for present and future challenges, such as criteria and definitions for dealing with work-related mental stress, design for an ageing workforce, and management of the digital transformation and artificial intelligence.

The labour and social policy motivating establishment of the Ergonomics standards committee

The Ergonomics standards committee was founded in the German Standardisation Committee (DNA, now DIN) in 1970, at the instigation of the GfA (Gesellschaft für Arbeitswissenschaft e.V.) and other interested parties (DIN: Nationale Ergonomie-Normung. In: DIN-Mitteilungen, 54(1975)7, pp. 319-322). The German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs supported its creation, in the same way that its current counterpart continues to support standardization in ergonomics.

The objective of the new Ergonomics standards committee was for its eleven working committees to set out, in standards, validated research findings concerning the humane design of work (as governed in Germany by Section 91 of the BetrVG, the Industrial Relations Act), in accordance with the state of the art in science and technology (Potthoff, E.: Betriebliches Personalwesen. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1974). Knowledge which previously had had to be painstakingly gleaned from various publications by individual experts was now discussed by a committee of experts who compiled it by consensus in standards. These standards thus form a central, reliable basis for activities at company level and for specific product standards.

One of the decisive factors behind the committee’s creation were the provisions in Sections 90/91 of the BetrVG concerning employees’ rights to consultation and co-determination in the shaping of the workplace, work processes and the working environment. In this context, ergonomics standards were regarded as suitable instruments for defining and updating the acknowledged state of the art in science and technology in the relevant areas, and thereby serving as a basis for solutions where these were to be negotiated between the social partners. Since its inception, the committee has included delegates not only from among academics and practitioners in the field, but also from employers’ associations and trade unions.

The role of standardization in the present and future world of work

Models and concepts in the sphere of human factors must be continually adjusted or redeveloped in consideration of changing underlying conditions (Stowasser, S.; Friedrich, N.: Perspektiven der Ergonomie-Normung. In:
Zeitschrift für Arbeitswissenschaft
, 68(2014)4, pp. 237-240). The findings of human factors research are still defined and described to a large extent in national and international ergonomics standards, the objective being for the products and work of our modern world to be designed such that they are humane, and the efficiency of work to be improved. The DIN Ergonomics standards committee (DIN NAErg) addresses principles of human factors in system design, particularly the ergonomic design of work tasks and processes, equipment and machinery, working environments and personal protective equipment. Networking with product standards committees is to be expanded further so that, for example, findings relating to human physical strength, body dimensions, postures and loads can be incorporated accordingly.

The focus of current standardization activity in the field of ergonomics lies on human characteristics relevant to work. These particularly include constraints of physical and mental capacity and, as targets, the safety, health and well-being of the persons concerned. The aim of ergonomics standardization is to optimize the performance, effectiveness and efficiency, accessibility and usability of the design solutions for work systems (workplace, work process, suitable associated work equipment and the working environment). Figure 1 shows the subject areas in which the experts of the individual DIN NAErg committees are currently active.

The shaping of new worlds of work is an area of growing importance. The NAErg’s committees develop ergonomics standards that address these challenges to businesses in a practical way. Essential fields are:

• Networked and intelligent digitalization, for example in “Industry 4.0” or artificial intelligence, which opens up numerous ways of redesigning work and thus also potential for ergonomics and occupational safety. Assistance systems such as smart glasses, tablets or smart watches, forms of engineered assistance (human-robot collaboration, etc.) and increased automation will shape the work of the future.

• Demographic change places the focus on safeguarding the physical and mental capacity of young and old (attracting a new generation of workers and assuring the continued fitness for work of an ageing workforce). For example, exoskeletons are currently being piloted as a means of reducing the effort of physical labour. The Exoskeletons committee recently set up within DIN NAErg supports efforts being made in companies.

• These developments require production, office and other work systems to be designed for accessibility and an ageing workforce. Accessible products open up opportunities for social participation and an improved quality of life to greater numbers of people. Ergonomics standards can be used to develop high-quality products and innovative solutions for all users, regardless of their age or constraints upon their fitness.

Further information is available on DIN’s website and in the DIN NAErg image brochure (in German).

Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Sascha Stowasser
Director of the ifaa (Institute for Applied Occupational Ergonomics and Industrial Engineering)
Chairperson of the DIN NAErg standards committee
Adjunct professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Dr.-Ing. Ahmet E. Çakir
CEO of ERGONOMIC Institut für Arbeits- und Sozialforschung Forschungsgesellschaft mbH
Chairperson of the DIN Joint working committee NAErg/NIA: Ergonomics for information processing systems

Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Nachreiner
Chairperson of Gesellschaft für Arbeits-, Wirtschafts- und Organisationspsychologische Forschung e. V. (GAWO)
Up to 2018 Chairperson of the national and international working committee on mental stress
From 1991 to 1997 Chairperson of ISO TC 159, Ergonomics

Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Schultetus
From 1989 to 2006 Director of the ifaa (Institute for Applied Occupational Ergonomics and Industrial Engineering)
Former Chairperson of  the DIN NAErg, CEN TC 122 (Ergonomics) and ISO TC 159 (Ergonomics) standards committees

Figure 1: Subject areas covered by the Ergonomics standards committee
Ergonomic principles
▶ Humane design of work processes

Human physiological and mental characteristics
▶ Anthropometrics
▶ Biomechanics (e.g. exertion of force and load handling)
▶ Mental stress

▶ Accessible design
▶ Consideration of the needs of older persons and persons with reduced abilities

Physical environment
▶ Ergonomics of the physical environment (noise, lighting, climate)
▶ Temperature of touchable surfaces

Information processing systems
▶ Human-machine interfaces
▶ Interactive systems
▶ Software ergonomics
▶ Displays

Industry 4.0
▶ Design of work and products in Industry 4.0