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Research Needs for Human Factors 1 INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW In the last several years the public has become sensitized to the importance of equipment designed to accommodate its human users. In the course of events at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant many residents of Harrisburg were evacuated because of the accident precipitated by operators misinterpreting their instruments. Coal miners cover equipment lamps intended to illuminate the mine wall, because they object to the glare in their faces. The M-1, the most technologically sophisticated battle tank ever produced, is limited by the operating difficulties experienced by its crew. With computer terminals now pervasive in the workplace, more users are voicing their complaints about requirements to converse in arcane dialects of computer languages. Each of these examples reflects a failure to consider the design of a system from the point of view of its potential users; thus it is not surprising that the public is demanding that more attention be paid to such considerations. These demands may be expressed in the decisions of jurors in court cases involving product liability, in the renewed emphasis on human factors in military and aeronautics laboratories, and in the increase in job opportunities for human factors professionals in the computer industry. In March 1982, over 1,000 people participated in a conference devoted to discussing how to make computers more user-oriented. The historical roots of the human factors profession are in industrial engineering and in psychology. In the early 1900s Frederick W.Taylor coined the term scientific management, by which he meant the application of The principal author of this chapter is Richard W.Pew.
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Research Needs for Human Factors scientific principles in the design of the industrial workplace. Although overzealous “Taylorism” resulted in some early mismanagement, his work formed one of the building blocks for modern industrial engineering and operations research. During the latter stages of World War II, psychologists, who had been involved in the selection and training of aircraft pilots, were called on to take a novel perspective. Instead of selecting pilots to meet the severe demands of the cockpit, they were asked to select the cockpit design best suited to the characteristics of pilots. This approach reduced accidents and allowed a larger population of potential pilots to be certified. Because flying pushes the human body to its physiological limits, the effects of physiological stress on performance became a further consideration. After the war a small group of universities began training human factors specialists for research and development in the military services and the aerospace industry. In 1957 the Human Factors Society was formed with 90 founding members; by 1977 the membership had grown to 1,956; and in the last five years the organization has expanded by an additional 50 percent. In addition, various engineering societies have formed groups related to human factors. The formation of this committee within the National Research Council in 1980 is the latest explicit recognition of the importance of human factors in today’s technological society. Human factors engineering can be defined as the application of scientific principles, methods, and data drawn from a variety of disciplines to the development of engineering systems in which people play a significant role. Successful application is measured by improved productivity, efficiency, safety, and acceptance of the resultant system design. The disciplines that may be applied to a particular problem include psychology, cognitive science, physiology, biomechanics, applied physical anthropology, and industrial and systems engineering. The systems range from the use of a simple tool by a consumer to multiperson sociotechnical systems. They typically include both technological and human components. Human factors specialists from these and other disciplines are united by a singular perspective on the system design process: that design begins with an understanding of the user’s role in overall system performance and that systems exist to serve their users, whether they
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Research Needs for Human Factors are consumers, system operators, production workers, or maintenance crews. This user-oriented design philosophy acknowledges human variability as a design parameter. The resultant designs incorporate features that take advantage of unique human capabilities as well as build in safeguards to avoid or reduce the impact of unpredictable human error. On the international scene this collection of activities has been called ergonomics, meaning the study of work. Its practitioners have placed somewhat more emphasis on biomechanics and the physiological costs of doing work than have human factors practitioners in the United States. Aside from this distinction, the two terms refer to the same collection of specialties. While its foundations rest ultimately in the parent disciplines, human factors research focuses on the solution of system design problems involving more than one of these disciplines. Since World War II the major sources of funding for basic research underlying human factors work have been the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the military services. Since the passage of the Mansfield Amendment (Public Law 91–441, 1970) to the U.S. defense budget, which mandated a shift toward system development and away from basic research, the real dollar volume of research has not increased very much. What research there is has focused increasingly on short-term goals. As a result the basic knowledge needed to provide the underpinnings for human factors applications to new technology has not been generated. The need to reverse this trend is at least part of the reason that the military services and NASA have taken the initiative in sponsoring the work of this committee. This report reflects the committee’s recommendations for needed research in terms of both long-term and short-term objectives. This report does not attempt to cover the full scope of human factors engineering, even in relation to military and NASA needs. As the committee began discussing research needs, a wide range of possible topics was considered. Two of our meetings included tours and discussions of ongoing research in military laboratories. Committee members were encouraged to develop brief position papers on highlighted topics that were germane to their interests. The human factors community was surveyed through an article in the Bulletin of the Human Factors Society, and 116 responses were received; the survey results confirmed the importance of many of the
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