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July 8, 2014

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Major accidents caused by poor ergonomics

Phil Chambers BSc, CMIOSH Strategic Safety Systems Ltd.

Most people think of ergonomics as the science of fitting the workplace to suit the human, so that strains can be avoided.  This is, of course, an important part of ergonomics, but what I want to consider here is how poor ergonomics can contribute to the cause of an accident.

In general, we standardise on colour codes, directions and so on; a green button starts a process, a red one stops it, rotating a knob clockwise increases the process value, etc.  Be very careful of ever deviating from these conventions. There are other areas where we have varying practices, however.

For many years, cars of British origin had the indicator switch on the right side of the steering column and the wipers on the left.  With cars of continental origin, it was vice-versa. So those of us who started on British cars, then drive a Renault, for example, would occasionally indicate our intention to turn left by turning on the wipers. This may not be that critical, but the following examples are much more serious, and in the case of the Kegworth air crash, the change from left to right with different models was one of the factors.

Note: in some of these examples, poor ergonomics did not directly cause the accident, but meant that operators (or pilots) took the wrong action to correct the initial cause.

Click the link for the first story

Disaster 1: Toronto DC8 air crash, 1970



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