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ergonomics, the engineering science concerned with the physical and psychological relationship between machines and the people who use them. The ergonomicist takes an empirical approach to the study of human-machine interactions. The objective is to improve the efficiency of operation by taking into account a typical person's size, strength, speed, visual acuity, and physiological stresses, such as fatigue, speed of decision making, and demands on memory and perception. Applications range from the design of work areas (including office furniture, automobile interiors, and aircraft cockpits) to the disposition of switches and gauges on the control panels of machinery to determining the size, shape, and layout of keys on computer terminals and character height, color, and clarity on video displays. The field of ergonomics is also sometimes called human or human-factors engineering, engineering psychology, and biotechnology.


See B. M. Pulat, Fundamentals of Industrial Ergonomics (1992); M. S. Sanders and E. J. McCormick, Human Factors in Engineering and Design (1993).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also human-factors engineering, human engineering), a scientific discipline that draws on various sciences to study man in the actual conditions of his activity in modern production. Ergonomics emerged in response to the considerably increased complexity of technology and of the conditions under which technology is used in modern production, to the substantial changes that have taken place in human labor, and to the synthesis in labor of numerous work functions. The discipline developed by borrowing from psychology, industrial physiology and occupational hygiene, social psychology, anatomy, and several technical sciences.

The scientific and technological progress has greatly increased the price of equipment and the cost of human error in the control of integrated systems. When designing new equipment and modernizing existing equipment it is therefore particularly important to consider in advance, as fully as possible, the abilities and characteristics of the people who will use it. In dealing with such problems, it is necessary to coordinate recommendations made by psychologists, physiologists, and specialists in occupational hygiene and social psychology and to bring these recommendations together into a single system of requirements for a given type of human work activity.

In ergonomic research man, the machine, and the environment are regarded as an integrated system. The main subject of ergonomic research is the man-machine system. Ergonomics studies the characteristics of man, the machine, and the environment that are manifested under specific conditions of interaction and works out methods for taking these characteristics, or factors, into account when modernizing and developing equipment and technology (seeHUMAN FACTORS). In addition, it studies such questions as the proper distribution of functions between man and machine, the operation of man-machine systems, and the means of determining criteria for optimizing such systems; the criteria developed take into account the abilities and traits of the working person or group.

Several ergonomic problems pertain to the production of technologically sophisticated consumer goods and to the planning of the workplace and work activity of persons whose fitness for work is impaired. Ergonomics studies and designs the most desirable variants of specific types of human activity associated with the use of new equipment.

The methodological basis of ergonomics is the systems approach, which makes it possible to use, in different combinations, the methodologies of various sciences whose purviews overlap; it is within this area of common interest that qualitatively new problems in the study of man-machine systems emerge and are solved. Ergonomics, which draws on a group of sciences devoted to the study of man, has developed in close interaction with engineering psychology, cybernetics, systems engineering, operations research, and industrial design, as well as with the scientific organization of labor and labor protection. Ergonomics is closely associated with design aesthetics. Ergonomic problems are dealt with by teams of experts that may include, depending on the nature of the problem to be solved, psychologists, physiologists, hygienists, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, mathematicians, designers, architects, and engineers.

The first studies directly associated with the inception of ergonomics took place in the 1920’s, when physiologists, psychologists, physicians, and engineers in Great Britain, the USA, Japan, and certain other countries undertook the interdisciplinary study of man at work, with the aim of making maximum use of his physical and psychological capacities and further intensifying labor. The term “ergonomics,” which was proposed by the Polish scientist W. Jastrzebowsky in 1857, came into common parlance after 1949, when a group of British scientists headed by K. Murrell organized the Ergonomics Research Society; the activity of this society is usually regarded as being responsible for the development of ergonomics as an independent scientific discipline.

Ergonomics has developed intensively in many countries throughout the world since the mid-1950’s. The International Ergonomics Association, with members in more than 30 countries, was founded in 1961; international ergonomics congresses are held every three years. The International Organization for Standardization has formed a technical committee on ergonomics. Ergonomics, which has become the official journal of the International Ergonomics Association, was founded in 1957 in Great Britain, where the journals Applied Ergonomics and Ergonomics Abstracts have been published since 1969. Ergonomics journals are also published in Bulgaria, Hungary, the USA, and France. In Great Britain, Canada, Poland, Rumania, the USA, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Japan curricula in ergonomics are being developed, and ergonomics specialists are being trained, at universities and other higher educational institutions.

In the USSR the early development of ergonomics was associated with the emergence and establishment of the scientific organization of labor by such figures as A. K. Gaste v and P. M. Kerzhentsev in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to the study of individual types of human work activity, V. M. Bekhterev and V. N. Miasishchev developed the first substantive concept of ergonomics, which was at that time known as ergology or ergonology, and formulated the basic tasks of ergonomics in a socialist society.

Socialist production regards man both as a worker and as a creative individual. The tasks of ergonomics in a socialist society are, therefore, determined not only by the need to increase labor productivity and to improve the quality of industrial output: even more important is the social requirement to protect the worker’s health and contribute to his personal development. Since the 1960’s research has been conducted in the USSR in all the principal areas of ergonomics, and the definition of the subject matter of ergonomics and the solution of practical problems has been worked on in many of the country’s organizations and production enterprises. A set of standards for general ergonomic requirements has been developed for man-machine systems.

The monthly information bulletin Tekhnicheskaia estetika (Industrial Design) discusses problems in the theory, history, and contemporary practice of ergonomics. The All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Design publishes scholarly works and guidelines on ergonomics.

In 1974 the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) signed an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation in the field of ergonomics.


Vvedenie v ergonomiku. Moscow, 1974.
Zinchenko, V. P., V. M. Munipov, and G. L. Smolian. Ergonomicheskie osnovy organizatsii truda. Moscow, 1974.
Lomov, B. F. Chelovek i tekhnika, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Singleton, W. T. Vvedenie v ergonomiku. [Moscow] 1974. (Translated from English.)
Ergonomika. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from Polish.)
Harris, D. H., and F. B. Chaney. Human Factors in Quality Assurance. New York, 1969.
Glivický, V., et al. Úvod do ergonomie. Prague, 1975.
Meister, D. Behavioral Foundations of System Development. New York, 1976.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(industrial engineering)
The study of human capability and psychology in relation to the working environment and the equipment operated by the worker.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the study of the relationship between workers and their environment, esp the equipment they use
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


The study of the design and arrangement of equipment so that people will interact with the equipment in healthy, comfortable, and efficient manner. As related to computer equipment, ergonomics is concerned with such factors as the physical design of the keyboard, screens, and related hardware, and the manner in which people interact with these hardware devices.
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The science of people-machine relationships. An ergonomically designed product implies that the device blends smoothly with a person's body or actions.

Although ergonomically designed seats, keyboards and mice are important, perhaps the most beneficial aspect of ergonomics is teaching people to get up periodically and stretch. (Redrawn from original illustration courtesy of Hewlett-Packard Company.)
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