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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Up for a challenge

MARION EDWIN says HFE’s dual focus on people and design meshes well with H&S needs, and issues a challenge to government agencies.

Human factors/ergonomics offers businesses a dual focus on production efficiencies and health (including safety) that supports business outcomes. Businesses using HFE can be assured that productivity will not be overlooked but will be considered alongside keeping people safe and well – for us the two goals are hand in hand.

Associated with productivity, and inherent in the nature of HFE, is our attention to design – whether consumer product design, interface design, service design, plant and tool design, or other elements of work system design. As design professionals we have a host of methods to design for success. For us, “human error” is an unacceptable end point in an investigation – if the system enables the human operator to make high risk bad decisions, we would be unhappy with the system design.

All HFE professionals work to positively influence design outcomes – from job design through to control/interface design, and everything in between. This design piece is highlighted in the upstream responsibility requirements outlined in the HSW Act, so we expect that more businesses will be using HFE professionals to assist with specific “design for H&S” elements. Procurement managers should be aware of how and when to use our services to ensure good decision making for new equipment and plant. Similarly, we expect more engineering firms will become alert to the need to ensure excellent human interfaces for new equipment and plant design.

Having an HFE professional as part of the design team will ensure that a host of usability elements are able to be addressed while they are still concepts or drawings. It is much easier to “design right” from the outset than to attempt awkward (and often costly) work-arounds or fixes to already built and installed gear.


HFE work is by nature human-centric; we always work with the people because it is all about designing for the users. This approach fits neatly with the current health and safety regime’s focus (and rightly so) on worker engagement and participation. I always smile when people start getting excited about “participatory ergonomics” as for us, this is just a statement of the bleeding obvious – HFE must always be participatory!

HFE uses a scientific approach to gather both objective and subjective data to understand human and organisational performance. HFE professionals are skilled in evidence-based approaches to working, and will be familiar with a range of methods in their domain of expertise. This assists businesses to understand in detail their risks, and will enable the identification of effective mitigations for these risks.


Not all health and safety generalists or business leaders have an understanding of specialist roles such as HFE and are hesitant to refer on. This reluctance to call in specialists has contributed to our poor health and safety outcomes, and also to low professional numbers in HFE. This is unfortunately reflected in the government agencies that are leading health and safety and injury prevention initiatives. While some, such as NZTA and CAA, appear to be more inclusive of HFE approaches and those with HFE knowledge, other agencies are less visibly engaged with the knowledge base and approach.

I challenge these agencies to employ HFE specialists, and to support them in their professional development and the mentoring of others. We must pay attention to the growth of knowledgeable professionals across the H&S sector, or we all lose.

Marion Edwin is the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of New Zealand’s chairperson and representative on HASANZ. The Society has had an internationally accredited programme to certify HFE professionals for almost 20 years.

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