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Home Forums General Ergonomics Topics Human Factors vs Ergonomics – Are they the same?

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    [private user]

    I am taking an informal poll for a graduate studies course that I am currently enrolled in. I am interested in finding out the general community’s positions on/answers to the following questions:

    1. What is the definition of Ergonomics?

    2. What is the definition of Human Factors?

    3. Are they so similar that the terms can be used interchangeably? Please explain.

    4. Which is the most likely scenario? a. Human Factors is a sub-discipline of Ergonomics b. Ergonomics is a sub-discipline of Human Factors c. Neither, they are 2 separate disciplines d. They are the same discipline.

    I am also planning on performing some interviews with local individuals, and will be writing up the results for a term paper. I would be glad to share my results with anyone who would be interested.

    Thank you for taking the time to assist me in my quest for a better understanding of terminology related to Ergonomics.




    Hi KB!

    I’m also on a course and have similar questions! I’d be very interested to read your findings, so please let me know at [email protected]. By the way, have you read Jastrzebowski’s “Outline of Ergonomics” (1857)? I got a copy from the Central Institute for Labour Protection, Warsaw, Poland. Very interesting reading…


    Tim Finucane




    Rick Goggins

    1. Here’s the definition I use: Ergonomics is the science and practice of designing tools, equipment, workstations, and environments to suit human capabilities and limitations.

    2. Human Factors pretty much has the same definition. The IEA in their “officially approved” definition doesn’t really make a distinction between the two:

    “Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”

    3. I don’t think the terms can be used interchangeably, if only because there’s a slight difference in emphasis between the two disciplines. (See answer 4.)

    4. I choose e. None of the above. Or, somewhere between c. and d. (c-and-a-half?). I see them as sub-disciplines of the overall HF/E field, with ergonomics emphasizing the physical aspects of work, and human factors emphasizing the cognitive aspects (at least in this country ). You can see this difference when looking at the table of contents for the Human Factors journal, as opposed to something like IJIE or Applied Ergonomics.


    [private user]


    This debate has been going on for the last 100 years and will probably continue longer.

    The Canadian Assoc. changed its name from “Human Factors” to “Ergonomics” a few years ago after a protracted debate, actually losing some members in the process!. Bilingual (French/English) requirements were made easier to satisfy using Assoc. Can. Ergo. – ACE, rather than the somewhat clumsy HFAC/ACE

    I agree with Rick Goggins. I have always considered that ergonomics stressed physical issues (workstation design,tools etc.) whereas human factors stressed human issues ( environment, cognitive, stress, etc. ).

    My experience around the world however is that the terms are used synonymously by practitioners of this science, and are understood to mean the same thing – whatever your bias !

    I was pleased to see Wojciech Jastrzebowski’s name quoted – his 1852 paper was the first time the word Ergonomics was used, and so he can truly be called the “father” of our profession.

    Jeremy Rickards, PEng. PErgo.

    Res. Professor and Ergonomics Consultant.


    [private user]

    Dear all,

    I very much agree with the posting of Jeremy Rickards.

    Looking at the current state of many job and workplace designs, as well as product designs, I think we have other issues than battling about the name of our profession. In Germany the term Ergonomics is mainly used for product design, Human Factors is not used at all; and the German professional society calls itself Society for Work Science. In Japan a well-known institute is called ISL – Institute for the Science of Labour.

    So what?

    Does it really matter if I introduce myself as Ergonomist, Work Science Specialist, or Human Factors Specialist? My peers would know my field and then probably ask me, what area exactly I am working in. And for the rest I normally have to explain anyway what I am doing. The only thing that I usually make clear is that many products that are labelled “ergonomic” by their manufacturers are anything but. Which brings me back to my first point: There is a lot of problems and issues to be solved – whatever your bias !



    I see human factors and ergonomics as two distinct fields that are complementary, sort of like the differences between anatomy and physiology. Ergonomics is often thought of as the field that deals with design of workplace- environment, machines and tools, whereas human factors deals with human physical, mental and perceptual capabilities, and both are important considerations in the study of work and design of work environments.


    [private user]

    I believe that Human Factors and Ergonomics are what you make them by specific

    submittals of technical papers and support of technical groups. For example, I have had several papers published in Human Factors (the journal) that relate to the general topic of anthropometry. By most counts, that is a topic more akin to

    workspace than to psychology. However, I acknowledge that my contributions are only a small percentage in the overall mix, and thus the psychological articles

    tend to move the “center of gravity” of topics toward their end of the spectrum.

    John Roebuck, M. S.

    Anthropometry Consultant

    Roebuck Research and Consulting



    Comments such as Mhan leave me rather perplexed.

    The Human Factors Society changed its name to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society to reflect that we’re really equivalent. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) in the United States is a Federated member of the International Ergonomics Society (IEA), as is the Ergonomics Society in Europe and as are the many other Ergonomics Societies from nations around the world.

    The beginnings of the Human Factors Society rose from the military World War II experience. A lot of knobs and dials and anthropometrics and stuff like that. The origins of the Ergonomics Society in Europe were more broad based and arose from worker quality of worklife and union/management/regulatory efforts.

    Each Human Factors and Ergonomics Society publishes both cognitive-oriented and physically-centered research – and aren’t these dimensions ultimately connected? The main difference is that some HFES members in the US (particularly those who perform military work) are accustomed to calling themselves Human Factors Engineers. Many other HFES members (such as me) call ourselves Ergonomists.

    But we’re all talking about the same discipline. Rani




    Thanks to computer problems my reply is a trifle late – so please forgive me if I am rehashing anything that has already been said. My impression has always been that in earlier days (the 80s and earlier) Human Factors specialists were engineers or designers who specialized in the anthropometric area and focussed on the impact of physiology on the design of controls and displays. The best ones appeared to mainly work for the US military amd wrote Milspecs and engineering design manuals that dealt with things like vehicle controls and cockpit layouts for fighter planes. Some of these documents are still around on the web. if anyone has a comprehensive list of links (or saved copies that could be emailed) please let me know!

    When I joined the profession it was (in Australia at any rate) purely a post-graduate specialization for graduates in related sciences and professions. This led to much inter-disciplinary camaraderie and tended to encourage the formation of formal and informal consultancy teams with multidisciplinary expertise.

    There was even some debate as to whether it was a philosophy or a profession – and (if it was a profession) whether it could be a profession that was a purely scientific (or at least as pure as an applied science is likely to be) or and art form (in the sense of personal, social and communication, motivation and management skills).

    Nowadays ergonomics seems to be seen more as a profession in its own right based on undergraduate courses and this has been (in my opinion at any rate) a giant leap backwards. I have noticed that these changes have led to the following questions in recent years; do we/should we still attempt to offer multidisciplinary expertise? are ergonomics methods designed for experts or non- experts? Some people argue that this depends on the ability of non-ergonomists and that many professionals are almost ergonomists already i.e; designers engineers physical therapists phsiologists computer human interaction specialistsOr at least in some areas such as biomechanics specialists occupational hygienists psychologists doctorsAnd in some cases members of other professions such as; nurses architects interior designers sports trainersErgo experts nowadays are in practice (over here at least) often physiotherapists or occupational therapists who work with (or as!) management consultants. There can be down-side to multidisciplinary need to work with management and other professions to implement change if they are unsympathetic to our ethos or there is any confusion as to who was responsible for making changes (Jones et al,1999). Perhaps we need to try harder at providing or creating multidisciplinary expert task-forces.

    I still believe that where we can make it work the sky is the limit!


    David McFarlane


    WorkCover Authority of New South Wales


    Any recommendation concerning the use or representation of a particular brand of product in this document or any mention of them whatsoever (whether this appears in the text, illustrations, photographs or in any other form) is not to be taken to imply that WorkCover NSW approves or endorses the product or the brand.

    J. Jones, A. Cockcroft and B. Richardson, (1999),


    [private user]

    it’s very interesting, that this discussion will not function by translating the terms in german.

    normally we use different terms, but using this in the same way

    Ergonomics as the field that deals with design of workplace- environment, machines and tools, and human factors as a field that deals with human physical, mental and perceptual capabilities

    for myself I use it more similar.



    Peter, the various Ergonomics societies are shifting in ways that reflect the issues they face. Post 9/11, you could see an increase in emphasis in the US on military and security issues. However, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society publishes on the range of research and applications in its journal, conference proceedings and in its magazine Ergonomics in Design.

    Further, HFES points to the definition of ergonomics used by the International Ergonomics Society to describe the discipline of ergonomics that is practiced by its members. (scroll down the page on this link to see it)


    Rani Lueder, CPE




    Hi Rani,

    I have read your response, and it makes sense, but as one who has fewer years of experience in HF/E, and recently certified as a CEA, I am confused as to why the BCPE offers two certifications, CPE/CEA and CHFP. If the fields are really one, why the two certifications?





    The second approach would be to have a stationary work surface matched with a tall stool/chair. Most ergonnomic chairs can be affixed with a tall cylinder that will raise the chair to standing height. Be sure and use reverse locking casters so the chair does not go flying backwards potentially resulting in a nasty fall, and in the USA a nastier lawsuit!

    Another way to alter worker’s standing posture, is to use a footrest with one foot supported and one foot on the ground, and periodically alternating supported foot. This further reduces static positioning and increases standing tolerance substantially.



    Hi again!

    I have to add that I think it is wonderful that the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia, Inc have decided to “simplicate and add more lightness” when they declare on their website: “The terms ‘ergonomics’ and ‘human factors’ are used interchangeably.” (http://www.ergonomics.org.au/mainerginfo.htm). Anyone reading this official declaration will be left in no doubt as to where this organisation stands. This declaration also effectively wipes out any perceived differences, leaving time and energy to focus on real issues. Their division of ergonomics into Physical, Cognitive and Organisational can also be understood by anyone. Isn’t their approach a good example of cognitive ergonomics being put into practice?


    [email protected]

    Mark (mhankotr1) wrote:

    > I am confused as to why the BCPE offers two certifications, CPE/CEA and CHFP.

    > If the fields are really one, why the two certifications?

    Hi Mark,

    The CPE (Certified Professional Ergonomist) and CHFP (Certified Human Factors Professional) credentials are the same in every way but name. Applicants who satisfy the BCPE (Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics) criteria for this level of certification may choose either CPE or CHFP. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I believe only about 15% choose the CHFP designation, and the majority go with CPE. As I understand it, BCPE retains the CHFP option because in certain industries and organizations the job title Human Factors Engineer is prevalent, and the CHFP designation is therefore desirable.

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