Engineers may end up playing a variety of different (sometimes overlapping) roles in their professional career. Each with their distinct scope, system level and operational concerns – some switch between several of these throughout their working life, depending on how specialized their working role is and at what system level they are. Expected to address problem solving. For example, an engineer may act on a specialized, operative level with responsibility for a single production line, which would require specific methods and knowledge to optimize for human well-being and performance.
Other engineers end up at a management level, where they are perhaps not served by anatomical knowledge and ergonomics evaluation methods, but may impact it greatly by having responsibilities for economics, personnel well-being and approving investments in new equipment. Yet others may act in a more visionary way to orchestrate a production system on a macro scale, involving supply chain operations and a sustainability vision.
At any one of these levels, knowledge of ergonomics and human factors can be a vital part of continuous improvement work, as well as a sound business practice where the value of healthy, knowledgeable and motivated workers is proactively supported and preserved before any problems or system inefficiencies arise, thanks to the engineer understanding what is required of a system for its human components to perform at their best.
Since this book aims to give both detailed knowledge about the human body and mind’s capabilities and prerequisite as well as to provide actionable ways to design and improve work systems , we have identified some different engineering roles that may be useful as “filters” to sift through the knowledge in this book, both while studying (if you have a future work role in mind) and later in life as a practicing professional. For the latter group, we hope that the book can continue to serve as a handy reference for making prioritizations, business cases and design decisions.
It may also be helpful to be aware of the perspectives of other actors in a production organization, as they may require a tailored set of arguments to become convinced of the benefits of a workplace change initiative.
The manager / leader
This person has a wide scope of responsibility in a company, addressing aspects like: the recruitment, training, performance and well-being of employees; having the mandate of whether to approve improvement projects and make investments; running a productive and feasible business, where employeesare treated as a valuable asset; and aligning operations with an overall organizational vision, such as a sustainability strategy. This person needs a macro-system view, an understanding of conditions that support worker wellbeing on an individual and team level, and economical aspects of work system performance.
The system performance improver
This person is responsible for the performance and improvement of a particular system or sub-system (for example, the efficiency of a production line) and acts independently to make a current-state analysis, which in turn acts as a basis for suggesting improvements. This role must understand the economic gains of good ergonomics to make a compelling business case for changes, and relies on data collection, ergonomics evaluation methods and tools, and an understanding of which conditions allow humans to perform physical and mental work well.
The work environment /Safety specialist
This person has a particular focus on the workers’ well-being and safety. This means that a solid knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of the human body and mind at work is essential for this role, in order to avoid harmful loading, distraction and repetitive strain. This person also needs to understand how work environmental factors influence human performance, and need to be able to use guidelines and standards to ensure the design of safe highperformance work environments.
Although perhaps not the most typical engineering role, this one has a considerable say in whether an improvement is made possible or not (and may overlap with other roles). When this person has an understanding for the type of investments that lead to an economically sustainable work environment with few worker ill-health issues, then money can be used wisely to invest in solutions with a synergetic systems perspective (rather than a reactive, individual-based one) that will have a lasting beneficial impact. They often need to consider legislative demands and time-horizons for expected payback on an investment.
The sustainability agent
Finally, an increasing concern for many organizations is that of sustainability in all business aspects; this means balancing social, economic and environmental aspects in order to ensure that continued operations will have a positive impact on people, planet and profit. But how is this connected to ergonomics and human factors? We argue that sustainability – particularly social and economical aspects – can be addressed both in a global macro-perspective and a local, company-level perspective, and that with a solid understanding of human needsand how they translate into requirements on a workplace, engineers who designand improve workplaces can contribute to more socially and economically sustainable production systems.