Expectations of safety: realising ergonomics and safety in product design

Norris, Beverley (1998) Expectations of safety: realising ergonomics and safety in product design. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This research considers the role of ergonomics in consumer safety. The aim was to encourage and improve the input of ergonomics, and thus safety, into the design process. The research has resulted in a series of publications targeted specifically at designers and producers of consumer goods, with the aim of encouraging their adoption of ergonomics principles, data and methods. These publications have been produced and distributed to industry by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Consumer Safety Unit:

CHILDATA: The Handbook of Child Measurement and Capabilties - Data for Design Safety

Designing Safety into Products: Making ergonomics evaluation a part of the design process (presented as an appendix to this thesis).

The background to the research is a review of the influences on consumer safety, and the exploration of a role for ergonomics. European consumer legislation states that to be safe a product must meet the expectations of the user, hence the title of this thesis. This user-centred premise indicates the importance of product design and ergonomics in consumer safety, within the context of the other influences on safety such as safe-guarding, mitigation of accidents and education. Theoretically this places ergonomics as a central influence on safety. A review of the existing contributors to safety, such as governance, standards and education was undertaken and again design was found to be central. With the potential contribution of ergonomics to safety demonstrated, evidence of a formal relationship between ergonomics and the design process was sought from the literature. Despite many years of calls for improvements in the input of ergonomics to design, little evidence was found in the ergonomics literature of support or guidance for designers of consumer products on either of these aspects. Two main routes to improving this input of ergonomics to design were identified: the use of ergonomics data and guidelines, and the use of ergonomics evaluation methods. This research focuses on these two routes to product design safety with the hypothesis that these inputs could be improved, eventually allowing better design safety to be realised. The aims of the research were therefore to investigate and improve these inputs.

The first stage of the research considered the use of ergonomics data and guidelines in design. The limitations of ergonomics data and the barriers to effective knowledge transfer were identified. Work was undertaken to address these problems, in the first instance specifically for designers of children's products. This resulted in the production of "Childata”, a handbook of ergonomics data on children, and its production and content are described. Four thousand copies of this handbook have been published and distributed free of charge to industry by the DTI. The success of Childata has resulted in sibling publications on adults (now published) and the elderly (in preparation).

The next stage of the research was to consider the use of ergonomics evaluation methods by designers. A review of the literature on ergonomics methods and on guidance for their use found that there was a dearth of practical advice for designers. Also, that most guidance on evaluation methods concentrates on usability with very little reference specifically to safety. The feasibility of producing guidance for designers to encourage their use of evaluation was therefore considered. A series of four product safety evaluations were undertaken, presented here as case studies, and these form the major experimental part of the research. The aim of the case studies was to investigate the most useful and common methods for evaluating product safety and to generalise these into guidance for designers ,as well as producing formal reports and recommendations for improvements in the safety of the individual products. The products investigated were swimming pool covers, carbonated drinks bottles, all terrain bicycles and stepladders.

The case studies showed however that a diversity of methods were needed to carry out the evaluations, many of which were novel methods or which drew on a mixture of ergonomics, technical and market research expertise T he only commonality found was in the sequence of stages that each evaluation followed, namely the identification of the products' users and hazards, the setting of performance criteria and selection of measurement variables, and the subsequent choice of methods. T he initial concept behind the fundamental research to producing prescriptive advice on methods was therefore rejected. Instead a framework for a generic evaluation process was developed, based on the findings from the case studies and with reference to the literature. This framework formed the basis of a guidance document for designers: ‘Designing Safety Into Products'. This was also published and distributed to industry by the DTI. The publication establishes and encourages a generic evaluation process, but also concentrates on embedding ergonomics principles into the design process by exploring the relationship between evaluation and safety and stressing the need to move past the use of ergonomics data, as well as providing methodological guidance.

The research reported in this thesis has shown that the problems with the transfer of knowledge and methods from the ergonomics discipline are long standing. The reasons for this are discussed and recommendations are made to improve the link between design and ergonomics, including furthering this pragmatic approach to empowering designers by the production of similar design tools.

The research programme has been a pragmatic approach to improving ergonomics and safety in design: improving the accessibility of ergonomics data for designers and promoting ergonomics evaluation methods during the product development process. The publications that have resulted from the research represent pragmatic steps which it is hoped may make some contribution to the realisation of safety.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Wilson, J.R.
Keywords: Human engineering, industrial design, product safety
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering
Item ID: 11433
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2010 12:55
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2017 20:16
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/11433

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