KANBrief 1/11

Ergonomics standards to be made more user-friendly

The body of ergonomics standards is divided between European standards pursuant to the Machinery Directive, international standards with a closer focus upon principles, including principles for design, and the ergonomic provisions contained within a wide range of product standards. What has been lacking to date, by which these areas could be merged to form a harmonious whole, is described here by the Chairs of the ergonomics committees at DIN and ISO, Norbert Breutmann and Georg Krämer.

Mr Breutmann, what challenges does ergonomics standardization currently face?

In the world of work, ergonomics is important in order to help workers to remain fit for employment through to retirement age. As a part of preventive work design, it represents a social challenge, one which however has not received the necessary attention in all areas to date. It is important that ergonomics be incorporated into the activities of all relevant standards committees and that in the process, a consistent understanding of ergonomics be fostered for the design of systems and products which centres upon human beings and their abilities. In order for this challenging goal to be reached, the Ergonomics standards committee must be capable of providing competent support for the human-centric design of work equipment and work systems in all fields of technology. This is still not the case, as can be seen from the example of lighting at the workplace, in which ergonomically sound supporting activity is still proving very difficult.

Why are ergonomics standards frequently described, for example by designers, as being difficult to apply?

There are various reasons for this, not all of which can be attributed to the Ergonomics standards committee. Designers sometimes lack experience in dealing with ergonomics requirements, which often cannot simply be ticked off on checklists but require an understanding of strategies. With the development of the tuition modules, KAN has taken a significant step towards equipping the next generation of engineers and raising awareness among them.

In addition, the standards pursuant to the Machinery Directive have been developed under extreme time pressure and with many compromises in their content, which are not conducive to comprehension. In order to make these standards more user-friendly, the ergonomic principles must be reformulated with greater consideration for the user's perspective. In order to make the content of ergonomics standards more accessible to designers in the meantime, the ergonomics and machine construction standards committees are together drawing up a generic communication document, described as a "bridging paper".

Mr Krämer, in your opinion, what areas of European and international ergonomics standardization present difficulties?

Ergonomics standards deal with the humancentric design of products and processes. In this function, they have both a social objective in the interests of employees and product users, and a commercial objective of importance for the management of a company. It has been seen however that the ISO and CEN ergonomics standards, currently over 150 in number, fail to meet expectations, in terms of both their visibility and their application. This is evident for example from the poor feedback quota for application of the standards.

And what is being done to promote visibility and application of the standards?

At European level, CEN/TC 122, "Ergonomics", in particular has launched initiatives in order to obtain information on the need for changes, and also proposals for improvements to the application of ergonomics standards. A survey conducted under the overall control of the Federation of European Ergonomics Societies (FEES) revealed a need for action, particularly with regard to the completeness and also conciseness of the information provided, useful examples, and the clarity of the text of standards. The results of the survey are currently being evaluated and proposals for solutions drawn up.

ISO/TC 159, Ergonomics, has taken a different approach: it has stepped up its co-operation with other technical ISO committees, and also with leading associations such as the International Ergonomics Association (IEA). The means by which the individual standards committees could be supported usefully was first identified. With the support of ISO/TC 159, purposeful ergonomics standards are now to be developed under the responsibility of the individual committees. As a result, both users' identification with the content of the document and their interest in publication of a high-quality standard are promoted sustainably. The immediate users are actively involved as stakeholders in development of the standard, and are therefore able to experience and describe its value for application directly.