Ergonomics and human factors has a long history in defence. In fact, it was the First World War that prompted the first scientific investigations into human capability. For instance, concern about fatigue in munitions factories in the UK led to the establishment of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board, which carried out investigations into the effect of working conditions on health and efficiency.
The huge demands placed on soldiers by the proliferation of new technology such as radar, anti-aircraft tracking systems and high speed aircraft during the Second World War provided further impetus to the desire to understand the limits of human capacities.
The military recognised that while technology might have unlimited potential, it had to be designed with a full understanding of the human operator. In order to design effective technology the limits of all human abilities had to be examined and this need led to seminal research into the physical and psychological capabilities of human beings.
Today, ergonomics and human factors in the defence sector is primarily concerned with Human Factors Integration (HFI), which aims to incorporate human factors into systems engineering, so that it is part of all complex systems throughout their life cycle. Knowledge on human factors includes human physical and mental capabilities and limitations, behaviour during normal and extreme situations, and insights on minimizing human error and organisational mistakes relevant to the design of the system (including maintenance equipment, technology, infrastructure, processes, procedures, and job roles).
HFI forms part of the larger aim of Human Systems Integration (HSI), which includes system safety, human capability, personnel selection, training, occupational health hazards and survivability. Effective HSI has been shown to reduces the probability of adverse safety and health outcomes, reduce the chance of program failure, improve equipment effectiveness and reduce overall costs.
Human System Integration was directly responsible for improved engine maintainability on the USAF F22 Raptor. The extensive commitment by the manufacturer to improving maintainability was central to the manufacturer’s competitive strategy for addressing the US Air Force requirements and becoming the supplier of choice.
As a result of HSI:
- Only five hand tools are required to service the engine
- All line replaceable units are designed to be serviceable without replacing any other
- Each unit is replaceable using a single tool within 20 minutes
- Maintenance is possible while wearing hazardous environment protection clothing
The use of a $20k investment for a bridge design mock up to identify HSI design deficiencies in the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program achieved cost avoidance of $10M. A bridge mock up is useful for improving poor situation awareness for the command team, identifying space restrictions, excessive reach distances and visibility issues.
DDG-1000s are equipped with a variety of new technologies that allow the ship to operate with a much smaller crew — roughly half that of the DDG-51s. Over the course of a 35-year service life this personnel difference could save taxpayers $280 million per ship, given that Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.
Defence Standard 00-250 Human Factors for the Designers of Systems has provided a major source of Human Factors data and guidance since its inception in 1987. Organised around a set of six HFI domains, namely Manpower, Training, Human Factors Engineering, Health Hazard Assessment and System Safety providing a focus for HFI activities and close ties to Health and Safety.
The Defence Human Capability Science & Technology Centre (DHCSTC) run by the defence industry partners for HFI in defence and is an excellent source of further information.
Human Systems Integration is worth the money and effort! is an insightful review into the benefits provided by human system integration using defence case studies across the globe.