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'1966 and all that': Trends and developments in UK ergonomics during the 1960s


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The 1960s represents a key decade in the expansion of ergonomics within the UK. This paper reviews trends and developments that emerged out of the 1960s and compares these with ergonomics research and practice today. The focus in particular is on the expansion of ergonomics as a discipline within industry, as well as more specific topics, such as the emergence of areas of interest, for example, computers and technology, automation and systems ergonomics and consumer ergonomics. The account is illustrated with a detailed timeline of developments, a set of industrial case studies and the contents of important publications during the decade. A key aim of the paper is to provide the opportunity to reflect on the past and the implications this may have for future directions for ergonomics within the UK. The paper provides practitioners with an insight into the development of ergonomics in the UK during one of the most important decades of its history. This is especially relevant given the fact that in 2009 the Ergonomics Society celebrates its 60th anniversary.
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'1966 and all that': Trends and developments in UK ergonomics during the
Patrick Waterson a; Ken Eason b
a Department of Human Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK b Bayswater Institute,
London, UK
Online Publication Date: 01 November 2009
To cite this Article Waterson, Patrick and Eason, Ken(2009)''1966 and all that': Trends and developments in UK ergonomics during the
1960s',Ergonomics,52:11,1323 — 1341
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/00140130903229561
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‘1966 and all that’: Trends and developments in UK ergonomics during the 1960s
Patrick Waterson
* and Ken Eason
Department of Human Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK;
Bayswater Institute,
9 Orme Court, London W2 4RL, UK
The 1960s represents a key decade in the expansion of ergonomics within the UK. This paper reviews trends and
developments that emerged out of the 1960s and compares these with ergonomics research and practice today. The
focus in particular is on the expansion of ergonomics as a discipline within industry, as well as more specific topics,
such as the emergence of areas of interest, for example, computers and technology, automation and systems
ergonomics and consumer ergonomics. The account is illustrated with a detailed timeline of developments, a set
of industrial case studies and the contents of important publications during the decade. A key aim of the paper is
to provide the opportunity to reflect on the past and the implications this may have for future directions for
ergonomics within the UK.
The paper provides practitioners with an insight into the development of ergonomics in the UK during one of
the most important decades of its history. This is especially relevant given the fact that in 2009 the Ergonomics
Society celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Keywords: general ergonomics; industrial ergonomics; human–machine systems; consumer ergonomics
Machines are ahead of human beings; things control
minds; society is limping and stumbling as it tries to
keep up with technological change.
(Calvino 1962 cited in Forgas 2008)
1. Introduction
The quote from the Italian writer Italo Calvino was
made during a debate held on ‘industry and literature’
at the beginning of the 1960s. Calvino sums up what
were to become dominant themes in later accounts of
the period, namely, the growth of automation and the
increasing role played by technology within society.
Both of these themes are important within ergonomics
and continue today as sources of debate in research
and practical applications of the subject. Similarly,
many issues have declined in interest or relevance as
compared to 40 years ago. Much has been written
about the origins of ergonomics (e.g. Waterson and
Sell 2006, Stammers 2007, Stanton and Moray 2008,
Stanton and Stammers 2008a,), alongside other
discussions centred around pioneers within ergonomics
and the future of the discipline (e.g. Frederic Bartlett).
By comparison, little detailed information is available
covering specific periods within the development of
ergonomics. This paper focuses on the 1960s within
UK ergonomics for a number of reasons. First, the
1960s can be seen as a mid-point between the
immediate post-war roots and birth of ergonomics and
its subsequent development into a fully fledged
discipline. Second, during the 1960s, ergonomics
became firmly established within industry and made
firm steps towards closer engagement with civil,
government and industrial users and practitioners
(Chapman and Stone 1964). The late Brian Shackel
(1927–2007), in a paper written to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of ergonomics within EMI (Shackel 1991)
(Table 1), viewed the period as a bridge between earlier
work on military ergonomics and a later focus on
consumer ergonomics in the 1970s.
In 2009 the UK Ergonomics Society celebrates its
60th anniversary. It seems timely and appropriate to
stand back and review trends and developments over
the period and compare these with present day
1.1. Historical sources and materials
This paper draws on a number of different sources of
information relating to the 1960s. These include
general histories covering the immediate post-war
period and subsequent decades (e.g. Thomson 1965,
*Corresponding author. Email:
Vol. 52, No. 11, November 2009, 1323–1341
ISSN 0014-0139 print/ISSN 1366-5847 online
Ó2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/00140130903229561
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Sandbrook 2005, 2006), as well as publications relating
to ergonomics available in books and journals written
in the 1960s and more recently. Historians sometimes
refer to the interval between 1956–1974 as the ‘long
1960s’ (Sandbrook 2006) and accordingly these dates
have been used as starting and end points in the paper.
Reference is also made to materials that were used to
prepare a history of the Ergonomics Society (Waterson
and Sell 2006 – e.g. the outcomes from interviews held
with ergonomists and other prominent individuals).
Finally, some of the materials used in the paper are
based on an archive of material from the late Brian
Shackel (e.g. photographs).
2. Significant events and milestones
The years leading up to the 1960s proved to be eventful
ones for ergonomics in the UK. In 1959 the
Ergonomics Research Society (ERS) held its annual
conference and celebrated at the same time the first 10
years of the Society. One account of the conference at
the time (Rodger 1959) raised the issue of the identity
of ergonomics and what members of the Ergonomics
Society had in common – was it simply made up of
individuals drawn from ‘certain technological wings of
certain human sciences and their agents and users in
industry?’. Whilst this question has relevance today
(e.g. current changes to the name of the Ergonomics
Society), it is clear that by the end of the 1960s the
debate had moved on and other matters were taking
precedence (e.g. the involvement of practitioners).
During the 1950s and to some extent the early
part of the 1960s, there was a concern that within
the UK ergonomics was very much aligned with
work study and the activities of work study
engineers (e.g. evaluation of workplace lighting,
time and motion studies). By the end of the decade
ergonomics had become established, not only within
the universities, but also within industry. These
developments accordingly brought about changes to
the nature of the discipline, as well as the role of the
ergonomist. Table 2 sets out a timeline covering
significant developments within ergonomics in the
UK alongside wider historical events and societal
Table 1. Characteristics of focus of ergonomics over the
years (Shackel 1991).
1950s Military ergonomics
1960s Industrial ergonomics
1970s Consumer ergonomics
1980s Computer ergonomics
1990s Information ergonomics
2000þLeisure ergonomics
Space ergonomics
2.1. Events leading up to the 1960s
2.1.1. Activities centred around the European
Productivity Agency
The activities of the European Productivity Agency
(EPA) and the close relationship it had with the ERS
during the 1950s helped to establish and raise the
profile of ergonomics within industry. The EPA was a
body that worked under the auspices of the
Organisation for European Economic Co-operation
and in 1954 a working party was set up to consider the
possibility of an international conference to promote
ergonomics in industry (Edholm and Murrell 1973,
p. 24). The plans for a conference were subsequently
postponed; however, in the meantime the EPA
proposed that a sponsored visit to the USA by a
European party should be organised. The visit to the
USA subsequently took place in 1956 with Tom
Singleton as the representative from the UK and
K.F.H. Murrell as the organising secretary. The
outcomes from the visit were later presented at a
seminar in Leiden in March–April 1957. The title of
the Leiden seminar was ‘Fitting the job to the worker’
and involved seven ERS members, including Singleton,
Murrell, R. Sell, W.F. Floyd and R. Stansfield
(Edholm and Murrell 1973, p. 26). In 1959 the plans
for a EPA sponsored conference were revived and the
conference was held in March in Zurich. The
conference brought together scientists, employers and
trade unionists with the aim ‘to change attitudes to
work in the field of ergonomics rather than
immediately to convey a great deal of factual material’
(Edholm and Murrell 1973, p. 27). The Zurich
conference led on to a subsequent conference in 1960
sponsored by the Department of Science and Industry.
2.1.2. Department of Science and Industrial Research
Conference 1960
At the start of the decade a conference on ‘Ergonomics
and Industry’ took place in London (27–29 September
1960). The title of the Department of Science and
Industrial Research (DSIR) conference reflected the
degree to which ergonomics had taken off as a subject
for application within industrial settings and had
evolved from its wartime, military roots. Some
indication of the importance of the conference can be
gathered from the fact that the opening address was
given by the then Minister for Science, Viscount
Hailsham. Similarly, the fact the conference was
sponsored by the government at the time provides
further evidence that ergonomics was taken seriously
by politicians and policy makers.
In total over 200 companies were represented at
the conference and papers were presented covering a
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Table 2. Timeline of events.
Date Developments within UK Ergonomics Developments within UK and elsewhere
1949 Ergonomics Research Society formed (July) Balance of payments crisis for Attlee’s government leads to sterling’s
devaluation against dollar
1950 Attlee Government elected (February)
1951 Symposium held in Birmingham on ‘Human Factors in Equipment
Design’ (Floyd and Welford 1954)
Festival of Britain (May)
Churchill Government elected (October)
1952 Symposium held in Cranfield on ‘Fatigue’ (Floyd and Welford 1953) Queen Elizabeth II crowned
1953 European Productivity Agency (EPA) meeting held in Zurich Watson and Crick discover structure of DNA in Cambridge (April)
1954 EMI Laboratory set up by Brian Shackel Roger Bannister runs the first 4-min mile
1955 Joint MRC/DSIR Conference on ‘Individual Efficiency in Industry’ held
in Cambridge, 31 March–1 April. (Conference was hosted by
Sir Frederick Bartlett and attended by a number of industrial
Eden Government elected (May)
Commercial TV starts in the UK (September)
1956 EPA sponsored mission to USA (later published as Murrell 1958) Clean Air Act passed in Parliament (July)
First Nuclear Power station opens (Calder Hall) (October)
Suez Crisis (November)
1957 Ergonomics journal first issue Eden resigns as prime minister (Macmillan replaces him) (January)
UK tests first hydrogen bomb (May)
Windscale nuclear reactor disaster
1958 British Productivity Council produces a film ‘Fitting the Job to
the Worker’
Motorway system opens (M6 Preston Bypass)
1959 Ergonomics Research Society Conference – 10 years of Ergonomics Macmillan Government elected
Establishment of first professorial Chair in Ergonomics at
Loughborough (W.F. Floyd)
European Productivity Agency Conference, Zurich.
1960 DSIR Conference on Ergonomics in Industry Penguin Books found not guilty of obscenity in the ‘Lady Chatterley’s
Lover’ casePublication of Murrell’s ‘Fitting the Job to the Worker’
1961 First IEA Congress (Stockholm) Russian astronaut Gagarin orbits the earth
Postgraduate course in Ergonomics set up at Loughborough by
W.F. Floyd (Stone 2009)
One year course in ergonomics set at Cranfield (designed for military
and civil service personnel)
Masters course in Ergonomics (MSc) set up at Loughborough
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Table 2. (Continued).
Date Developments within UK Ergonomics Developments within UK and elsewhere
1962 DSIR issues ‘Ergonomics in Industry’ handbooks (later published as
Applied Ergonomics Handbook - 1st Edition, edited by Brian Shackel
Cuban missile crisis (October)
1963 MSc course in ‘Work Design and Ergonomics’ set up at Birmingham
France vetoes UK’s entry into Common Market (January)
Robbins Report of Education (new universities are established)
Macmillan resigns as prime minister (Hume replaces him) (October)
1964 Sir Harry Melville addresses the Ergonomics Society Conference –
lecture mentions the increasing importance of systems approaches
within ergonomics
Abolition of Resale Price Maintenance (opens up the possibilities for
transformation of the retail sector)
First undergraduate courses in ergonomics offered at Loughborough
University (Stone, 2009). First graduates from the course in 1968.
Wilson Government elected (October)
Industrial Training Act
1965 Social Science Research Council set up (December) Nationalisation of the Steel Industry (May)
Nuclear Installations Act 1965
Comprehensive School system introduced (July)
Death Penalty abolished (November)
1966 ‘Human Operator in Complex Systems’ meeting at University of Aston England win the football world cup (July)
1967 IEA Congress held in Birmingham (held under the patronage of HRH
Prince Philip)
Abortion and homosexuality legalised
First Heart Transplant Operation (December)
1969 ERS celebrates 20 years of Ergonomics Concorde aircraft makes its maiden flight
Applied Ergonomics first issue Landing on the Moon
1970 Set up of Institute of Consumer Ergonomics (ICE), and HUSAT at
Heath Government elected
1971 High involvement of ERS members with standards and attendance at
BSI committees
First British soldier killed during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland
Decimalisation introduced
North Sea Oil concessions are auctioned (August)
1972 Tom Singleton gives annual Society lecture on Human Error ‘Bloody Sunday’, Northern Ireland (August)
Expelled Ugandan Asians settle in UK
1973 18 UK Universities and Institutes in total offer courses of one form or
another in Ergonomics
UK joins European Economic Community
Oil price soars as OPEC cuts supply to US and Western Europe.
UK enters recession
1974 Increasing evidence of research on consumer ergonomics (e.g. Whitfield
Wilson elected after ‘hung parliament’
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
MRC ¼Medical Research Council; DSIR ¼Department of Scientific and Industrial Research; ERS ¼Ergonomics Research Society; HUSAT ¼Human Sciences and Advanced Technology.
1326 P. Waterson and K. Eason
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diverse range of industries and services (e.g. London
Transport, British Steel, Smiths Instruments). The
proceedings from the conference (Department of
Scientific and Industrial Research 1961) record that
eight symposia tool place, ranging in theme from ‘The
place of ergonomics in industry’, ‘Ergonomics and
products’ to ‘The future of ergonomics’. The latter
symposium provides some clues as to what ergono-
mists were concerned with at the time, as well as their
predictions for the future. W.F. Floyd, for example,
speaking of the problems of defining what was meant
by ergonomics commented that:
I think this puts us in the position of being able to say
that there is no such a thing as an ergonomist – yet. I
believe that might be when this process reaches
maturity, but I do not foresee this happening for a
number of years.
(Department of Scientific and Industrial Research
1961, p. 161)
In the same symposium, Donald Broadbent com-
mented that predictions of the future were likely to de
doomed to failure, whilst also suggesting that ergo-
nomics would expand from a consideration of manual
labour to a consideration of management issues:
What will those people [ergonomists] be doing? In part,
the same things that they are doing today; but only in
part. I suspect in the year to come there will be wider
applications, with the disconcerting result that the
board of directors as well as the man on the shop floor
will be the subject of ergonomic study.
(Department of Scientific and Industrial Research
1961, pp. 159–160)
The theme of the role of ergonomists in industry and
changes to the nature of work will be addressed later in
the paper in section 4. The next section examines in
more detail the topics of interest that preoccupied
researchers and practitioners during the 1960s.
2.2. Topics of interest in academia and practice
One way of gaining insight into the topics that
preoccupied the minds of ergonomists and related
professions (e.g. applied psychologists) is to look at the
types of textbooks and training courses that were
published and available for study over the decade.
Table 3 sets out the contents pages of four books that
were published from 1965–1974. In addition, the
syllabus for a short course in ergonomics from 1961
is presented in Table 4.
Looking through the contents of both the text-
books and courses from the 1960s and today, the first
impression is how little seems to have changed. The
comments made by Broadbent (Department of Scien-
tific and Industrial Research 1961) seem to have partly
come true. Many of the topics that one would expect to
find today in postgraduate courses in ergonomics, for
example, were being taught, albeit with a different
content and emphasis, 40 years ago. This is perhaps
unsurprising given the nature of ergonomics. However,
what has changed the most would seem to be the
expansion of the basic core elements of ergonomics
(e.g. anthropometry, control and display design) into
more specialised areas of investigation (e.g. posture
and comfort, human–computer interaction (HCI)).
These changes had implications for the role of the
practising ergonomist, moving from someone capable
of having an overview of all of the topics in
ergonomics, spanning anatomy, physiology and
psychology, to a more specialist role (section 4.2). In
addition, by the end of the 1960s techniques for
evaluation and design within ergonomics (e.g. task
analysis) begin to make an appearance. The trend
toward the development of methods and techniques
designed for specific application domains within
ergonomics continues up until the present day. The
next section focuses in more detail on a selection of
topics that reflect both continuity and change over the
course of the 1960s to the present day.
2.3. Focus on selected topics
2.3.1. Computers and technology
Throughout the 1960s, with the advent of interactive
computing, computer applications were spreading
quickly in business and industry. Computer processing
was undertaken by large, mainframe machines that
had hitherto been the province of computer specialists.
Now ‘time sharing’ systems enabled a mainframe to
service many remote terminals at the same time and
people who were not computer specialists could
experience an interactive dialogue with the computer.
At first this was undertaken using teletype machines
but these were soon superseded by visual display units
or terminals (VDTs). The widespread use of interactive
computing raised many human issues and ergonomists
quickly became involved in research, evaluation and
design roles. In all three of the case studies reported in
section 3, for example, the ergonomic teams were
engaged in the development of various forms of HCI.
At first, the dominant concerns were familiar hardware
and environmental subjects: the ‘knobs and dials’ of
the keyboard and the display, the workstation and the
lighting. Cakir et al. (1980) produced an early ‘VDT
manual’ to provide design guidance on these subjects.
However, it soon became evident that interactive
computing also created some new challenges for
human performance. One was response times. Early
forms of time sharing could produce delays in
responses from the computer that could last minutes at
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any point in the dialogue and this proved very
disruptive to task-oriented thought processes. Today,
this problem is only apparent when one wants to
download large files and the response speeds have
largely disappeared from the research agenda.
However, the issue of software ergonomics that
Table 3. Topics of research – representative book publications.
Publication Contents
Ergonomics – Man in His Working
Environment (Murrell 1965)
Introduction: the nature of ergonomics
Part 1: the elements of ergonomic practice
The physical basis of man’s perception of his environment
The human body: Bones, joints and muscles; metabolism and heat regulation; body size,
limits of movement and functioning of limbs; the nervous system.
Man as a system component
Part 2: practical ergonomics
Design factors: layout of equipment; design of seating; design of instrumental displays;
compatibility; design characteristics of controls.
Environmental factors: environmental temperature and humidity; noise; the visual
environment; vibration.
Organizational factors: methods of investigating work; the organization of work;
inspection; shift work; age.
Psychology of Work (1st edition,
edited by Peter Warr 1971)
Theory and application in psychology (Broadbent)
Shiftwork (Wilkinson)
Skill performance and stress (Poulton)
Learning (Annett)
Man–machine systems (Singleton)
Accidents (Kay)
Ageing (Griew)
Selection (Drenth)
Occupational guidance (Lancashire)
Judgements of people at work (Warr)
Decision-making (Sime)
Managers – Effectiveness and training (Fineman)
Motivation (Blackler and Williams)
Employee participation (Hespe and Little)
Intergroup relations and bargaining (Stephenson) Organisations as psychological
environments (Payne)
Introduction to Ergonomics
(Singleton 1972)
The provision of energy
The application of forces
Problems of body size and posture
The effects of climate
Limitations of the sense organs
The design of controls
The design of displays
Man/machine information exchange
Temporal, social and economic conditions of work
Age, fatigue, vigilance and accidents
Acquisition of evidence about individual behaviour
Acquisition of evidence about system behaviour
The design of work
Assessment, presentation, and interpretation of evidence
Retrospect and prospect
Applied Ergonomics Handbook
(1st edition, edited by Brian
Shackel 1974 – first published as
series of booklets issued by DSIR)
Industrial use of ergonomics (Singleton)
Instruments and people (Shackel and Whitfield)
Design of work for the disabled (Griew)
Inspection and human efficiency (Belbin)
Ergonomics versus accidents (Sell)
Noise in industry (Broadbent)
Men, machines and control (Provins)
Thermal comfort in industry (Fox)
Lighting of workplaces (Longmore)
Seating in industry (Branton)
Layout of workspaces (Jones)
Current trends towards systems design (Singleton)
DSIR ¼Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
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became recognised in this period has become
progressively more significant. Early forms of dialogue
with computers were based on the programming
languages used by computer professionals, but these
were not a good basis for HCI when the humans were
accountants, clerks, engineers, managers and so on;
people who were naı
¨ve users with regard to computers.
So the search began for forms of software interaction
that would be natural and easy for the ever-widening
population of computer users. By the mid-seventies this
had distilled into the search for usability (Shackel 1984)
and, as personal computers came into being, ‘point and
click’ graphical interfaces exploiting the capabilities of
the mouse were fast becoming the de facto standards for
HCI. Ergonomists played leading roles in this process.
The Human Sciences and Advanced Technology
(HUSAT) Research Institute at Loughborough
University was established in 1970 and specialised in
the study of human aspects of computing technology,
and many information technology companies such as
IBM, Phillips and British Telecom began to establish
human factors groups and usability laboratories in
which to test their new products.
Although there was a number of attempts to
undertake theory-driven research in this field (e.g.
Card et al. 1983), the main emphasis was applied to
create standards and style guides for interaction
design, to establish usability evaluation methods and
to institutionalise usability design as an integral part
of the way new products and systems were developed.
By the 1980s HCI and usability engineering was
developing into a major international sub-discipline
occupying a territory somewhere between computer
science and ergonomics. The first international
conference in the INTERACT series was held in
London in 1976 and the journal Behaviour and
Information Technology was launched in 1981.
Today, HCI is a feature not just of commercial
systems but of a wide variety of consumer products
and it is a testament to workers in this field that a large
proportion of the population can now make regular
use of these sophisticated products without any
specialist training. There is now a large army of
usability engineers in companies around the world
dedicated to ensuring that new products meet human
factors standards. It is sobering, however, to note that
these professionals are more likely to have computer
science qualifications than degrees in ergonomics.
Ownership of this inherently multi-disciplinary subject
was always an issue exemplified by the use of the term
‘human–computer interaction’ by ergonomists and the
term ‘computer–human interaction’ (CHI) by
computer professionals. It was the CHI professionals
who actually designed usable forms of interaction such
as the graphics interface. Ergonomists who work
professionally in this field are increasingly also gaining
qualifications in information technology so that they
can play a full role in the development of new products
and systems.
2.3.2. Automation and systems ergonomics
One of the many developments that came about as a
result of the increasing automation of tasks was the
formation of what later became established as systems
ergonomics. Singleton’s (1958) work within the shoe
industry, for example, had underlined the importance
of understanding the combined influence of
management, technology and human–machine
components on work and productivity. Likewise,
Welford’s (1960) booklet in the DSIR series on
‘Ergonomics and automation’ linked ideas from
systems theory to human and machine performance
issues. Sir Harry Melville’s (1963) address to the
Ergonomics Society gives some idea of the positive
light in which the systems approach was viewed:
The machine and its operator inevitably form a single
system in which the characteristics of both contribute
significantly to the performance of the whole. The
human characteristics concerned include not only the
basic capacities of the human body and brain, but also
the effects of individual and social experience, the aims,
ambitions, hope and fear that a man brings to any task
he performs.
The symposium held in 1967 on the ‘Human
operator in complex systems’ at Aston University
Table 4. Syllabus for a 2-week appreciation course on the
‘Design of equipment for human use’ (Wade 1961).
The body as a heat engine and the problem of physical
The human being as a receiver and processor of information
The need to experiment, and the problems of experimenting
on human performance
Body structure and the limits of limb movement
The use of statistics
Anthropometry, seating and manual weight lifting
The contribution of motion study to equipment design
Photographic techniques of motion study
Planning experiments
Display of information
Vigilance and inspection
Control design
The layout of equipment
The working environment: lighting, colour radiant heat
and noise
Load, speed and stress
The effect of ageing on performance
The application of ergonomics; physiology, anthropometry
and physiology
Ergonomics and automation
The human factors in equipment design
Relations of the designer with management and work people
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brought together a number of researchers and
practitioners from academia and industry with
interests and enthusiasm for systems ergonomics.
Singleton (1967) described reading the concepts and
ideas that had come from systems theory as a ‘eureka
experience’, whilst at the same time noting that there
were many who were sceptical of the systems
approach. This had in itself led to a new schism with
ergonomics. In the 1950s there had been tensions
between psychologists and physiologists, by the later
1960s attention was more focused on those who came
from the ‘knobs and dials’ tradition and those who
were perceived as ‘systems men’. Singleton cites
research on management decision-making (e.g. the
work of Lisl Klein and colleagues), vigilance and
workload, as well as the views of the general public
toward automation as important topics worthy of
future investigation. The symposium also contains
contributions covering issues such as allocation of
function (Whitfield 1967), automation in meat
handling (Shackel et al. 1967) and the role of the
operator in specific contexts (e.g. the National Grid;
Sell and Pulsford 1967). It is worthwhile noting in
passing that the systems approach in recent years has
gained in popularity in a number of domains (e.g.
safety and health care ergonomics) and many of the
issues mentioned in the symposium (e.g. shortage of
hospital beds, motorway crashes; Jones 1967) are as
topical today as compared to over 40 years ago.
2.3.3. Job and work design
The 1960s was a decade when motivation to work, job
satisfaction and job design were important topics on
the research agenda. One reason was that many of the
industrial jobs in manufacturing at the time involved
repetitive tasks and machine pacing and many studies
had shown that operators in these jobs had low levels
of job satisfaction. They tended to be alienated from
both the companies they worked for and the work
systems they were part of. The poor industrial relations
climate in the UK in particular during this time meant
that both industrialists and government were interested
in improving the lot of people at work. Many of the
researchers in this field came from industrial sociology
and occupational psychology, but ergonomists also
recognised the applied importance of these issues.
Welford, for example, in the Ergonomics Society
lecture in 1966 emphasised the need to understand
motivation and job satisfaction if one was to fully
understand the factors that affected performance at
work (Welford 1966).
Many theories emerged from research in this
period. The most popular were the relatively simple
and easy to grasp theories of Maslow and Herzberg,
which could be used to explain the relative roles played
in job satisfaction of extrinsic factors, such as pay and
recognition, compared with intrinsic factors, such as
the challenge of the task itself. Later, more
sophisticated theories emerged (Parker and Wall 1998),
which demonstrated the role of a wide array of factors
in the experience of job satisfaction. These theories had
a range of applied consequences from the design of
payment systems to management training. However,
the recognition of the importance of intrinsic factors
fed directly into methods of job design (i.e. the
assignment of tasks to work roles in the work system).
Several authors (e.g. Davis and Canter 1956, Trist
et al. 1963) created lists of job design criteria that
emphasised the need for a variety of tasks in a job and
discretion and autonomy with regard to how tasks
were undertaken. These concepts also became part of
broader movements that gained momentum in the
1960s; the development of forms of industrial
democracy, the study of the quality of working life and
the development of socio-technical systems theory as a
systems approach that sought both effective work
system performance and worthwhile and satisfying
work for people to undertake. Recognition of the
importance of implementing these ideas in industrial
practice came in the UK through the creation of the
Work Research Unit in the Department of
Employment and in the European Union through the
formation in 1975 in Dublin of the European
Foundation for Living and Working Conditions.
There appeared to be rich promise in this era that
the application of these theories and methods would
produce more satisfying work and that this would help
create more effective and adaptable work systems.
Today, although this field of study is still being
developed, it is not such a prominent research
discipline and is receiving less attention from
industrialists and government. A possible reason is
that most of the low-skilled manufacturing jobs that
were the focus of concern have moved from the
developed world to the developing world as mass
production has moved to the Far East. There is now
less concern in the developed world for the design of
jobs to increase job satisfaction and more concern
about job stress. The design solutions currently in
vogue are less about job design and more about flexible
work schemes that enable workers to achieve a better
quality of work/life balance.
2.3.4. Consumer ergonomics and standards
Over the last 50 years UK household income has
doubled in real terms according to the latest
government statistics (Office for National Statistics
2008). The beginnings of this trend can be traced back
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to the 1960s, when consumer spending on household
products and services began to take off. Some indication
of the involvement of ergonomists in the design of
consumer products can be judged from the fact that
between 1965 and 1973 some 174 references to ergo-
nomics were made in Design, a popular magazine read by
professional designers. Over the decade, the magazine
published a range of articles written by ergonomists
covering a wide range of products and design-related
issues, including accidents and design, agricultural
machinery, bathroom ergonomics and product
evaluation. Later, the importance of ergonomics was
recognised by the fact that two people associated with
design ergonomics were involved with the magazine’s
1973 consumer good awards (Stuart Kirk at
Loughborough and Bruce Archer at the Royal College
of Art).
During the late 1950s a good deal of research was
conducted on the anthropometric properties of chairs
and tables (e.g. Akerblom 1954, Floyd and Roberts
1958). Work on chairs and seating requirements
continues to the present day (e.g. Corlett 2005) and is
one of the main (and sometimes only) interpretations
of the term ‘ergonomic’ amongst the general public.
Later, the field of consumer ergonomics expanded
considerably and took in a range of different types of
product, some highlights include the following:
.Studies of drivers and driving behaviour con-
ducted at the Applied Psychology Unit (APU) in
Cambridge by Ivan Brown and colleagues (e.g.
the use of car radios and other concurrent tasks
on driving – Brown et al. 1969, see also section
.Work on household appliances and kitchen
design conducted by W.F. Floyd and colleagues
at Loughborough University and the Institute of
Consumer Ergonomics in Loughborough (e.g.
the usability and anthropometric properties of
household jugs – Floyd et al. 1965, the ergo-
nomic design of kitchens and tasks related to
housework – Ward 1970).
.The design of coins and the problems associated
with the move to decimalisation of UK currency
conducted at the APU in Cambridge by Patricia
Wright and colleagues (e.g. Wright 1968, Wright
et al. 1969).
.Development of a hospital bed, which later
became a British Standard, for the National
Health Service by Bruce Archer and colleagues at
the Royal College of Art (The Times Newspaper
By the early 1970s, the issue of standards had taken
on more importance than it had in the past within
ergonomics. Members of the Ergonomics
Society had taken part in standards committees
(e.g. furniture design) since the early 1960s and
representation on other committees increased
through the decade. However, a survey by Whitfield
(1972) found that of 400 standards relevant to
ergonomics, none had any actual mention of
ergonomics within them. The problem at the time was
seen as poor communication of what ergonomics
consisted of, as well as few attempts to integrate
ergonomics into standards. Over the course of time,
this appears to have improved (Stewart 2000) and
ergonomists are today widely involved in the design of
standards, particularly as they relate to information
2.3.5. Ageing and population change
The topic of an ageing population and the
impact this had upon the industrial workforce
provided many debates during the late 1950s and
early 60s. This is reflected in the number of papers on
ageing in the Ergonomics Society conference
proceedings and the journal Ergonomics over the
period. In addition, a number of research groups and
centres, some funded by organisations such as DSIR
and the Nuffield Foundation, were active across the
country (e.g. Liverpool, Bristol, University College
In 1951, people between the ages of 50 and
59 years represented 43% of the population
compared to 39% in 2003, whereas the proportion
of those aged over 85 years increased from 1.6% in
1951 to 5.5% in 2003 (UK Statistics Authority 2008).
One of the main issues that attracted the attention
of ergonomists at the time was how to retrain older
workers. A typical example is Simon and Wolf’s
(1963) study, which looked at the reaction times,
speed and efficiency of older people when carrying out
tasks involving inspection and visual acuity.
Similarly, other papers drawn from industry
concentrated on older workers carrying out
inspection tasks, such as repairing telephone exchanges
(e.g. Jameeson 1966). The work of Eunice Belbin at
UCL is notable since it later became influential in the
design of training programmes for older workers
(Belbin and Downs 1964). What is striking about most
of the work on ageing at the time is that it tended to be
conducted within the laboratory and involved
experiments measuring reaction times using simulated
work-based tasks (e.g. postal sorting). It was only
much later in the 1970s that issues such as the job
satisfaction of older workers or the difficulties they
might have had in adjusting to new jobs were
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3. Case studies of ergonomics in industry
and research
As mentioned earlier, the 1960s saw the expansion of
ergonomics into industry. In particular, ergonomists
actively collaborated with a number of trade associa-
tions and were employed in a variety of industries (e.g.
Boot and Shoe Research Association, Furniture
Development Council). Described here are three
examples of case studies of ergonomics within
3.1. The Ergonomics Laboratory at EMI Electronics
In 1954 Brian Shackel, then working at APU
in Cambridge, was invited to establish a team at what
was at the time EMI Engineering Development Ltd
(later EMI Electronics Ltd) in Feltham, Middlesex.
Initially, the team was called the ‘Psychological Re-
search Laboratory’ because the name ‘ergonomics’ was
not considered to be sufficiently well established. It
became the EMIE Ergonomics Laboratory in 1965.
In addition to being in the music industry, EMI
employed large teams of engineers, many of whom
worked on large military system developments. How-
ever, EMI was also very active in developing commer-
cial systems and products and, during the 1960s, was at
the forefront of UK efforts to develop the first
transistorised computers. Brian Shackel saw the role
of the Ergonomics Laboratory as to apply ergonomic
knowledge and principles to the work of the engineer-
ing teams in the company.
As a service . . . the major function of the . . . labora-
tory is to aid project engineers and draughtsman in the
design of equipment to ensure compatibility of
operation between the machine and the man.
(Shackel 1967, p. 4)
3.1.1. Military ergonomics
Initially, the majority of the work undertaken was in
relation to military projects. Anderson and Beevis
(1970) record that this included work on the
interfaces for radar and infrared displays. The group
quickly recognised that whilst much of their work was
on standalone products, the military work took them
into large systems design projects. They became
involved, for example, in the design of ship’s opera-
tions rooms, vehicle environments and fleet informa-
tion systems. This led to an abiding concern for
systems ergonomics and the role that ergonomics could
and should play at all stages of the development of
large systems.
3.1.2. Consumer and product ergonomics
Outside of the military work of EMIE, the laboratory
worked with many other engineering teams. At the
time, Morphy Richards was part of EMI and this gave
the laboratory the opportunity to evaluate and
contribute to the design of many domestic products
whilst they were in development. This included electric
drills, electric carving knives, record players and
hairdryers (Figure 1).
3.1.3. Computers and information technology
One of the major developments in EMI was what was
at the time the largest all-transistor computer in
Europe, the EMIDEC 2400. The team was involved in
prototype development of the control console for the
computer in 1959 and was able to trial and evaluate
several different interfaces (Shackel 1962). This led to a
strand of work about human issues in the emerging
computer industry, which included not only the
hardware interface but also the software interface for
interactive computing. Several members of staff later
became prominent contributors to human–computer
interaction, a subject that became a major
international discipline as the information age
developed (Figure 2a,b).
3.1.4. Large-scale systems
Shackel was concerned that the laboratory should not
restrict itself to work on EMI products and systems
and secured management agreement to offer the
Figure 1. Faulty position of on–off switch on electric
bread cutter. The position of the on–off switch leads to serious
risk of slicing the right thumb.
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services of the laboratory to other companies. As a
result, the laboratory was able to work on product and
systems development with design teams in a wide
variety of environments. As a result of collaborations
with Lisl Klein, then social science advisor in ESSO
UK (Klein 1976), the laboratory created a mock-up of
the bridge of an oil tanker in order to test bridge layout
and equipment design for a new fleet of oil tankers. It
also ran trials of alternative layouts for a new control
room for the ESSO refuelling depot at Heathrow
Airport (Shackel and Klein 1976). As Anderson and
Beevis (1970) report, the group steadily developed the
analytic and design skills to make systematic
contributions across a broad range of human issues
in complex system design including workload
assessment, selection and training, task analysis and
design, work group design, man–machine allocation of
tasks and the design of equipment, environment and
workspaces. This range of techniques was applied in
system developments, such as the development of an
airline reservation system employing 200 reservation
clerks and the design of an automated meat handling
system for the Port of London (Shackel et al. 1967).
From small beginnings the group grew to over 10
full-time professional staff in 1970. Although it had
research interests, its major contribution was to
develop the methods and techniques for working with
designers and engineers to translate ergonomics
knowledge into forms that could influence the
development of products and systems. Anderson and
Beevis (1970) conclude that:
The presence of a specialised group like this laboratory
in industry not only fulfils a need to that industry but
by straddling the gap between university research and
private consultants, points the way for the proper
development of the subject.
(p. 232)
In 1970 Brian Shackel joined Loughborough
University to create the HUSAT Group of researchers
(later to become the HUSAT Research Institute) and
continue his work on HCI. The laboratory continues
until this day and as a result of various changes of
ownership is now part of Quintec Associates. In 2004 it
celebrated 50 years of the work of the laboratory.
Today, the laboratory sustains the focus on making
integrated human factors contributions throughout the
development life cycle of complex, usually military,
3.2. Medical Research Council Applied Psychology
The Medical Research Council APU in Cambridge
played an important and fundamental role in the
development and application of UK ergonomics.
During the preparation of the material in Waterson
and Sell (2006), for example, the APU was consistently
mentioned by those interviewed in terms of the quality
of research it produced in applied ergonomics and
experimental psychology. In addition, the APU was
cited as one of the best examples of successful
collaborations between researchers in ergonomics
based at the unit and their industrial counterparts.
Figure 3a,b shows some of the work conducted by the
APU during the war on the redesign of operations
rooms (Bartlett and Mackworth 1950).
Part of its success can be attributed to the influence
of Donald Broadbent (1926–1993) throughout the
period 1958–1974 and his role as director of the APU.
In his work at the APU, as well as elsewhere,
Broadbent emphasised the need to relate theory to
applied problems. As he stated in one of his books:
Figure 2. (a) Installation of EMIac analogue computers –
prototype (source: Shackel 1959a,b); (b) installation of
EMIac analogue computers – ergonomically redesigned
production machine.
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‘. . . the test of intellectual excellence of a psychological
theory, as well as its moral justification, lies in
its application to concrete practical situations’
(Broadbent 1973, p. 7).
This ethos seems to have dominated the work of
researchers in ergonomics (human factors) in the APU
during the period of Broadbent’s directorship:
I think this broad range of human factors research was
obviously drawing on, but also hopefully contributing
to, theory development within the unit. The other
point which I think is equally important is the
collaborative way in which we set up research with
outside organizations such as British Telecom, British
Rail, the Post Office, the Coal Board, and so on. I
think these groups not only benefited from the
theoretical concepts that were being researched and
developed within the unit; they also benefited from the
methodology that unit staff were developing.
(Ivan Brown quoted in Reynolds and Tansey 2003,
p. 37)
military problems arising from work carried out during
the Second World War, such as pilot fatigue, the effects
of environmental stress and the vigilance of radar
operations (for more information on the wartime and
immediate post-war history of the APU, see Hayward
1956 and 1970 the number of scientific staff employed at
the APU remained relatively constant (approximately 20
scientists) with increases over time in the numbers of
research assistants and other technical staff working on a
variety of projects. Ivan Brown and colleagues (Brown
et al. 1970) provided an overview of these projects in a
paper published in Applied Ergonomics and elaborated
upon these during the discussion at the Witness Seminar
held at the Wellcome Trust Centre in June 2001
(Reynolds and Tansey 2003). Amongst the research
topics were the following.
3.2.1. Application of psychological theories
.Research on signal probability and response time
and the relationship this had at the time to
information theory (Broadbent 1958), its
application to industrial inspection tasks and
sonar detection (Colquhoun 1967).
.The relationship between sleep loss and level of
awareness over periods of time (Wilkinson 1961).
.The application of theory to practical problems
such as the relationship between the perception
of written material and the style of printing used
(Poulton 1960).
.Studies of searching strategies and fault-finding
in electronic equipment (Dale 1959).
3.2.2. Post office studies
From 1960 the APU carried out a large number of
studies under a consultancy agreement led by R.
Conrad with the Post Office (later the Royal Mail).
Conrad was appointed Human Factors Consultant
with the Post Office during the early 1960s and led
studies that aimed to design communication systems
that were capable of being more efficiently used by the
general public. These studies would today fall under
the rubric of research in the area of improving the
Figure 3. (a) Wartime control room showing problems of
distance and limited viewing angle of controllers from the
plotting table; (b) improved structure with controllers nearer
to and above the plotting table. (Source: Bartlett and
Mackworth 1950.) Although not published until after the
Second World War, this study was carried out 1943–1945.
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usability of everyday technologies such as telephones
and visual displays. Conrad and his colleagues carried
out studies on a variety of topics including the
relationship between letter-sequence redundancy in
short-term memory and the effective recall of the
letters and digits that make up postal codes (Conrad
1967) and the advantages of presenting telephone
numbers as groups of digits rather than individually
expressed in terms of theories of encoding in memory
(Conrad 1960) (Figure 4).
3.2.3. Studies of car driving
Ivan Brown and his colleagues produced a number of
important studies with practical implications concern-
ing the influence of fatigue during prolonged driving
on the impairment of skill. Brown’s work is also
possibly the earliest to address the current topical issue
of the impact that using a mobile phone has upon
attention whilst driving (Brown et al. 1969).
3.2.4. Physiological rhythms and shift work
A number of studies were carried out on the topic of
the relationship between circadian rhythms and
physiological changes, such as body temperature,
particularly as they related to shift work patterns.
These studies had many practical implications for the
design of rotating shift systems, including the selection
of individuals best suited to work efficiently according
to this type of shift pattern (Colquhoun 1967).
3.2.5. Designing for everyday life
Brown et al. (1971) point to the closer links with
Europe, which were forming at the end of the 1960s, as
one reason why research on designing systems that
affected the general public became more frequent
within the APU and elsewhere. For example, the
conversion to decimal currency in 1971 promoted
studies of the visual and tactile properties of alternative
design for decimal coinage (Wright et al. 1969).
3.3. British Iron and Steel Research Association
Sell (1971) and Crawley (1972) provide small-scale
histories of ergonomics-related research and
application within the British Iron and Steel Research
Association (BISRA). BISRA came into existence
following the Second World War and received its
income initially from a levy on all steel companies
within the British Iron and Steel Federation. Funding
was also provided from the USA by The Marshall Plan
I, the form of conditional aid funds (provided also to
the Tavistock Institute in London). This was matched
at the time by a grant from the Department of
Scientific and Industrial Research (later renamed the
Ministry of Technology). In 1954 the total income of
the BISRA was around £500,000; by 1971 this had
risen to approximately £2.2 million.
The origins of ergonomic work at BISRA can be
traced back to war time, when the director between
1946 and 1969 (Sir Charles Goodeve) had been
involved with operational research with the Admiralty.
Similar links existed through the involvement of other
individuals working at BISRA with the Ergonomics
Society (Miss I.M. Slade) and previous experience
using ergonomics within the aviation industry (Dr
L.N. Bramley). Some of the research topics carried out
at BISRA included the following.
3.3.1. Crane cab design
At the request of the DSIR the ergonomics group at
BISRA became involved in the redesign of crane
control cabs. One of the problems with the existing
design of these types of machinery was that little
thought had been given to the field of vision required
by the driver. As a result of building a workshop
model, the crane cab was redesigned and enabled sight
lines to be determined for the cab driver, thereby
increasing the safety of the cab as a whole (Sell et al.
3.3.2. Physical conditions of work
Because of the nature of working in the iron and steel
industry, BISRA partly concentrated on research
aimed at protecting workers against exposure to heat.
Some of this work originated out of research projects
in collaboration with the Medical Research Council’s
Figure 4. Medical Research Council Applied Psychology
Unit research in the Post Office. In the early 1960s
mechanisation of letter-sorting envisaged a keyboard operator
copying postcodes to enable mail to be sorted electronically, as
illustrated (source: Reynolds and Tansey 2003).
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Environmental Physiology Research Unit. Part of
this involved carrying out studies on the effects of
radiant heat stress upon performance (Ketterington
1969) (Figure 5a,b).
3.3.3. Accidents and safety
In collaboration with the Tavistock Institute, BISRA
carried out investigations of the accident patterns of
recently employed workers at a large Sheffield steel-
works. Hill and Trist (1955), for example, found that
over time workers learned how to avoid accidents and
that their absence patterns also eventually come into
line with other workers in the rest of the factory.
BISRA also carried out research on safety posters and
demonstrated their effectiveness, particularly within
high-risk work contexts (Laner and Sell 1964).
3.3.4. Process operation
DSIR also financed a study of the skills involved in
process operation with BISRA working with E.R.F.W.
Crossman at Oxford University and R.J. Beishon at
Bristol University. This work involved taking measure-
ments of the outputs from a steel mill and comparing
these with recordings of the operator’s behaviour. The
outputs from these studies formed the basis of a set of
new design recommendations for hot strip mills (Sell
et al. 1961b).
3.3.5. Man–computer interaction
A variety of different types of studies, in what was then
known as man–computer interaction, were conducted at
BISRA in the mid- to late-1960s. These included
investigations of the legibility of different types of digital
displays (Simpson 1971), allocation of function and
automation, as well as larger-scale simulations of the
decision-making of operators when interacting with large-
scale computer-generated data (Ketterington 1970).
4. Changing perspectives in ergonomics
Over the course of the last 40 years, a huge amount of
change has occurred within industry and society. For
example, the three research institutes, laboratories and
units described in section 3 no longer exist. Many other
changes have been brought about to the nature of
research and practice within ergonomics (Stanton and
Stammers 2008b). Table 5 sets out some of these.
4.1. The nature of work
Perhaps the single biggest change that has occurred
since the establishment of ergonomics after the Second
World War has been the changes that have occurred to
the nature of work. In the immediate post-war period,
ergonomists were preoccupied with subjects such as
Figure 5. (a) Helmet designed within British Steel; (b)
diagram of inside the helmet and its workings. This breathing
protection helmet was developed by ergonomists at the
British Steel Corporation, led by David R. Davies; it received
a Design Council Award for innovative design and a Queen’s
Award to Industry for the manufacturer.
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Table 5. Changing perspectives in ergonomics.
1940s/1950s 1960s 1970s Present day
Characteristics of work and
Manual, repetitive tasks Increasing automation in the
Health and safety concerns,
Decline in manufacturing
sector and rise of service
industries, global working
Characteristics Dominance of military
Rise of industrial ergonomics Consumer ergonomics takes
Health and safety ergonomics
increases in importance
Developments Fatigue, controls and displays Systems ergonomics Safety-critical ergonomics
(e.g. nuclear)
Focus on bespoke methods,
tools and techniques within
Changes to academic
No courses in universities,
subjects too new
University courses started,
short courses for industry
Further expansion of courses
and broader coverage of
Many courses, although some
threats to existence
Changes to practice Move from a wartime ‘back
room’ operation to industry
Many practitioners in industry Smaller-scale consultancies
Large range of consultancies
with a range of sizes, many
consultancies specialised in
certain areas
The role of the ergonomist No real role as such,
specialisms (e.g. psychology,
Generalist – experience of most
areas of ergonomics
Increasing specialisation,
generalist role dying out
Specialist, expert
Domains Military, engineering,
transport, iron and steel
Computer ergonomics,
Nuclear, consumer ergonomics Diverse range of domains,
new areas such as healthcare
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fatigue brought on by jobs or tasks, which often
stretched workers to their physical and physical limits.
McFarland (1971) describes how some of the work
conducted using the ‘Cambridge Cockpit’ at the APU,
for example, demonstrated that pilots routinely
suffered from psychological stress, as well as fatigue
brought on by long working periods of flying, which
significantly decreased their levels of skill and timing.
During the 1950s and 1960s the focus of research
within ergonomics changed to attempts to understand
the combined effects of physical and mental workload,
alongside aspects of environmental context and the
tools/machines used by workers (Burger and DeJong
1962). The increase of automation in factories in the
mid- to late-1960s meant that workers were often in the
position of ‘machine minders’; as a result, topics such
as monotony and boredom began to be studied under
the heading of job design (Broadbent 1961, Edholm
1970). The impact of UK legislation on Health and
Safety during the early 1970s, alongside prominent
disasters such as the one that occurred at Flixborough
in 1974, changed the nature of research in ergonomics
once again. During the 1970s ergonomists increasingly
began to examine safety and the causes of accidents
and disasters in more depth as compared to earlier
studies (Turner 1978). The field of job design also
began to address the issue of workplace stress and the
impact this had upon worker performance and
absenteeism (Cox 1978).
Within UK ergonomics more widely there has been
a great deal of continuity in terms of the types of
domains that have been investigated and areas where
practising ergonomists work. Military ergonomics, for
example, continues to be a focus of investigation, as
well as forming one of the largest areas of employment
for ergonomists. More recently, other areas have risen
to prominence (e.g. health care ergonomics) alongside
more traditional domains such as transport (e.g.
railway and aviation ergonomics). What is perhaps
more evident is that the predictions made by many in
the 1960s that employees would spend less time at
work and more time in leisure activities have not come
4.2. The role of the ergonomist
One of the most frequent comments that came about
during the interviews with ergonomists active in the
Ergonomics Society (Waterson and Sell 2006) was that
it was possible in the 1960s for one person to have an
overview of all of the various aspects and components
of ergonomics. Many people stressed that the intro-
duction of courses at the beginning of the 1960s had
resulted in ergonomists who were capable of adopting
a ‘holistic’ or ‘whole systems’ perspective in tackling
applied problems. By the beginning of the 1970s it was
becoming clearer that ergonomists were becoming
more specialised. One of the main reasons for this was
the growth of the discipline and the spread of
ergonomics into domains that required detailed
knowledge and specific skills.
In the very early days following the Second World
War it appears that those involved in ergonomics were
trying to establish an identity for themselves. Chapanis
(1999) notes that human factors researchers and
ergonomists were in close competition with established
professions such as engineering, mathematics and
physics. During the 1960s the growth of ergonomics in
industry was more successful in the UK, as compared
to the USA (Drury 2008a). In subsequent decades the
subject matter of ergonomics within the UK became
more diversified. One negative outcome from the
expansion of ergonomics was that some of its
‘territory’ was lost to other disciplines. During the
1960s, for example, the subject matter of design was
made up of various interdisciplinary groups (Murrell
1985) and it was normal for ergonomists to work
alongside designers, engineers and other related
professions in pursuit of a common task (e.g. product
design). Over the course of time, two developments
seem to have taken place. First, ergonomists became
‘decoupled’ from design and marginalised, their
activities sometimes seen as relevant, but not essential
as compared to other concerns (e.g. design aesthetics).
Sudjic (2008) notes that this development is true of
design as a whole and not just ergonomics. During the
1960s a paramount consideration was practicality and
meeting the needs of consumers, whereas in the 1980s
and 90s the emphasis shifted to manufacturers’
perceptions of consumers’ needs. A second
development was that other disciplines started to use
ergonomics themselves without actually involving
ergonomists. For example, in the 1980s and 90s HCI
came about as a subject in universities and industry
and much of HCI borrowed concepts and ideas from
ergonomics. In many respects the success of
ergonomics in industry in the 1960s also proved to be
something of a disadvantage in subsequent decades.
4.3. Growth of theory and methodology
One of the biggest changes to have occurred over the
last 40 years is the growth of theory and methodology
within ergonomics. At the beginning of the 1960s it
was not clear what separated ergonomists from other
groupings (e.g. work study engineers – time and
motion; Hailsham 1961). By the end of the 1960s it was
clear that there was a need for specific methods and
techniques that could be used within specialised
domains or to address generic problems in ergonomics
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(e.g. task analysis). What is perhaps most interesting
about the period is how many of the studies that are
described, irrespective of whether they were industrial
or university-based, involved the use of experiments or
laboratory-based investigations. Most studies involved
some sort of tightly controlled experimental procedure,
where the types of outcome measures involved reaction
times or other quantifiable dependent measures. In the
1970s studies became more eclectic and techniques
such as error analysis and reliability assessment started
to appear. Only in the 1980s did the first qualitative
studies start to appear within ergonomics. The first
mention of the need to assess the costs and benefits of
ergonomic interventions can be traced back to the
Society lecture given by Bonjer (1971).
4.4. Other changes
In the course of reading through material from the
1960s, it is clear that there was a huge amount of
enthusiasm for ergonomics, not only amongst ergono-
mists themselves, but also amongst industrialists and
researchers from other disciplines. The era was
characterised by a ‘can do’ type of attitude, where
applying the results of research to practical problems
was common and to a large extent taken for granted.
Amongst ergonomists there was also a great deal of
faith in the ability of technology to deliver clear
benefits to society at large (Drury 2008b). This
situation has changed over the subsequent decades
and the drive to establish ergonomics as an academic
discipline has taken on more and more importance.
Similarly, during the 1960s it appears that many people
thought they were on the edge of a breakthrough and
that ergonomics would establish itself as a discipline
with a clear identity and existence in its own right.
Whether this has been achieved today is a source of
continual debate; however, it seems that there is still a
long way to go before these objectives are met. Much
can be learnt from the work carried out by British
ergonomists in the 1960s and it remains to be seen how
many issues, then current, re-emerge as topics of
interest in the future.
We wish to express our thanks to the reviewers for
Ergonomics for their helpful suggestions for improvement
to the paper.
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... Over the decades, HF/E has expressed more than a passing interest in systems approaches, originating around the modern, formal foundations of Ergonomic science (see e.g., Gagne, 1962;Oborne et al., 2003;Singleton, 1975;Waterson and Eason, 2009). But only more recently has it begun to embrace a fully dynamic systems perspective as one of the central organizing principle for the discipline. ...
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