The Challenging Psychology of Ergonomics

Originally posted on September 8, 2013 @ 6:47 AM

The Challenging Psychology of Ergonomics

Another guest post by Dr Robert Long – If you loved this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE

One of the most comprehensive textbooks on ergonomics is by Kroemer and Grandjean Fitting the Task to the Human.   The title in itself captures the essence of ergonomics.  Ergonomics is all about the “fit” between the task and humans.  It doesn’t make sense to try and fit the human to the task.  When we ignore ergonomics people get injured.

A few years ago I did some research on the physical ergonomics of piano teaching.  Piano teaching involves people of various sizes working together to learn how to play an instrument.  The teachers vary in size and the students vary in size.  In piano teaching it is difficult to fit the task to the human.  There are some adjustable piano stools but it’s too expensive to make adjustable pianos, so there is a high level of injury with teachers and students from this activity.  So piano teachers manage risks through short lessons and limiting activity until the “fit” is right.

The psychology and social psychology of ergonomics is just as important as physical ergonomics.  How do we make sure that the things we say and do in safety “fit” what we know about human psychology and social psychology?  Here are a few questions we might want to consider.

  1. If we know human senses are easily “flooded” and this drives default “tick and flick” mentality, why do we continue to bombard workers with excessive safety bureaucracy?
  2. If we know that gain-framed messages are more effective than loss-framed messages, why do we maintain work cultures with so many punitive and non-motivating safety messages?
  3. If we know that human perception is highly unreliable and influenced by many cognitive biases, why do we not factor in consideration of these biases in the way we manage safety?
  4. If we know that “double-speak” drives cynicism, scepticism and pessimism in workplaces and, that these are powerful sub-cultures, why do some managers continue to say one thing and do another as if it has no safety consequence?
  5. If we know that complacency, risk arrogance and overconfidence are the highest cause of human incidents and injury, why is the language of doubt, reflection and conversation not automatic in the discourse of our workplaces.
  6. If we know that the language of zero “primes” humans to focus excessively on the microscopics of risk, why do we continue to maintain such language?  What language do we use to ensure a balance between a micro and macroscopic focus?
  7. If we know that the myth of “engineer out the idiot” dumbs down a workforce, why is such language maintained in safety culture, priming workers to not think?
  8. If we know that hidden assumptions and values are critical triggers of behavior, why are managers not more trained in how to undertake skilled observations, psychology of risk questioning and conversations?
  9. If we know that a request that someone exercise some “common sense” confirms that it doesn’t exist, why do we maintain such language?
  1. If we know that generalistic language of “be careful”, “be alert” and “take care” lack definition and guidance to action, why do we repeat such expressions as if people will automatically know what to do?

These are just some of the questions we need to consider if we explore the psychology and social psychology of ergonomics.  How does your safety system and organization shape up to such questions?

Author’s Resource Box

Dr Robert Long

PhD., (UWS) BEd., (USA) BTh., (SCD) MEd., (Syd) MOH (La Trobe), Dip T., Dip Min., MACE, CFSIA.

Executive Director – Human Dymensions Pty Ltd

Rob has a creative career in teaching, education, community services, government and management.

Rob is engaged by organisations because of his expertise in culture, learning, risk and social psychology. He is a skilled presenter and designer of learning events, training and curriculum.

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