Using Cognitive Ergonomics in our everyday lives

EWI Works’ Calgary consultant, Kirsten Willms is a whiz when it comes to cognitive ergonomics and has assisted in incorporating the concepts into a lot of EWI Works’ courses and seminars. While the average person might not know the term “cognitive ergonomics,” it plays a big part in everyone’s lives, reducing safety risks in the work place or while travelling as well as making life easier at home and in our leisure activities.

Cognition is how we think or process information. When we review (or are supposed to review) the safety card on an airplane that provides instructions in case of an emergency, we read the simple text, look at the pictures and process that information so we know what to do. The pilots process information through prior learning, practice, and experience so they know where the controls are and how to fly the plane. The field of cognitive ergonomics studies how the majority of people perceive their environment, process information and make decisions to plan a course of action. It also studies the processes involved in learning and memory.

How can cognitive ergonomics assist in injury prevention and workplace hazards? It examines the fit between human cognitive abilities/limitations and the machine, task or environment. This area of ergonomics assists in the placement of controls at a factory control system or an airplane’s cockpit, based on how a human being processes information (for example), to aid in the prevention of operator error. So it’s safe to say that this area of ergonomics plays a very important role in our safety as well as the safety of the worker!

But cognitive ergonomics is also in our everyday lives as manufacturers try to improve on their products and make them more user friendly (therefore reducing a lot of angry customers). A good example of poor product design is the shower in my bathroom of my new condo. The faucet has a typical handle that you turn for hot and cold. But I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower. By accident, I discovered that you had to pull down on the spout opening – resulting in a water soaked head while trying to clean the tub. To me, that wasn’t common sense. An ergonomic consultant with a strong understanding of how the average person would logically come to the conclusion of how to operate a shower would have indicated this to the designer of the product!

So next time you sit down to play a Wii game or try to figure out how to turn on your gas fireplace, remember that it’s cognitive ergonomics may have made your life a little easier and safer! And if you think your company could benefit from a ergonomic advice from one of our consultants like Kirsten, call us at 780-436-0024.

Next up, more of an understanding of cognitive ergonomics and some humorous examples of poor design!