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What is Human Factors Ergonomics (HFE)?

October 7th 2021

Human Factors Ergonomics is a field that has been growing rapidly in the last 30 years, in the United States, Canada, and other countries around the world. Ergonomics means the “science of work”, derived from the Greek words “ergon” (work) and “nomos” (laws) [1]. The terms Human Factors and Ergonomics are used interchangeably, with HFE being the most common abbreviation.

The main HFE governing body is the International Ergonomics Association (IEA), founded in 1959. The goal of the IEA is to promote the field of HFE and to increase its contribution to society on a world-wide level [2].

The IEA defines HFE as the “scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the 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.” [1]

Overall, HFE is seen as a systematic discipline [3].

HFE can be subdivided into three main categories:

  • Physical ergonomics, including, but not limited to human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological, and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity [4].
  • Cognitive ergonomics refers to the study of how human mental processes affect people’s interactions with their environment and others around them. These mental processes can include perception, memory, information processing, reasoning, and motor responses [4].
  • Organizational ergonomics studies the organization and structure of sociotechnical systems, and how they can be optimized. For example, an organizational ergonomist may study the design of working times and how they can be improved [4].

Regardless of the subdiscipline of HFE, the goal of the Human Factors Expert is “to understand the interactions between people and everything that surrounds us and based on such knowledge to optimize the human well-being and overall system performance.” [4]

What role does Human Factors play in Personal Injury?

An example of Human Factors as it pertains to a product liability accident follows. An emergency room nurse discovered that the reason why many small children were coming to her emergency room with burns was due to playing with disposable cigarette lighters [5]. She documented her findings and petitioned the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate the matter further. The research revealed that children playing with disposable cigarette lighters ignited 5900 residential fires that resulted in an average of 1100 injuries and 150 fatalities annually. As a result of this research, the major cigarette lighter manufacturers made their lighters childproof, which has reduced the number of fires started by small children by 58% [5].

Where personal injury occurs, there is almost always a human factors element to the accident causation. How an accident unfolds is best seen through the lens of human perception, performance, and error. It is estimated that as much as 90% of accidents and incidents involve a human factors cause.


For more than three decades LISKE Human Factors experts have been helping counsel on both sides of the bar succeed in establishing to what extent the human element factored in accident and injury causation. As individuals and as members of a multi-disciplined team, our Human Factors experts provide peer-reviewed reports based on a comprehensive understanding of the science of human behavior and human limitations. They also provide in-depth rebuttals that undermine the oppositions’ misinformed and overreached position on causation. With doctoral degrees in psychology, engineering, biomechanics and kinesiology, LISKE Human Factors experts dedicate their education, experience and critical thinking to solving your complex causation problems.

[1] IEA (n.d). What Is Ergonomics?

[2] IEA (n.d). Mission and Goals.

[3] Wilson JR. Fundamentals of systems ergonomics/human factors. Appl Ergon. 2014 Jan;45(1):5-13. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2013.03.021. Epub 2013 May 16. PMID: 23684119.

[4] Karwowski, W., & Zhang, W. (2021). The discipline of human factors and ergonomics. Handbook of human factors and ergonomics, 1-37.

[5] Porter, B. E., Bliss, J. P., & Sleet, D. A. (2010). Human factors in injury control. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 4(1), 90-97.