Human Factors Experiences in Context - Comparing Four Industrial Cases Using a Soft Systems Framework
Journal article, 2011

Abstract: In industrial production companies, the practice of assigning responsibility for human factors and ergonomics (HFE) to specific professionals (referred to as HF agents in this paper) may take on various organizational forms. This interview study examines the extent to which HF agents are able to give input towards the design of new production systems in different industrial sectors. The present paper reports on how HF agents work in four Canadian case companies from the Automotive, Nuclear Power, Poultry and Auto parts sectors. A stratified soft-systems framework was used to guide the comparison of the four case companies regarding the HF agents’ positioning in their companies and how this influences their work practices. HF agents and a cluster of 2 -3 surrounding colleagues with adjacent responsibilities were interviewed. Results showed that company context-specific factors such as procedures, collegial relations, processes and culture all heavily influence the “infrastructure” the HF agents can make use of to advance and sustain a human factors/ergonomics agenda. This includes vertical support in the company hierarchy (management support from top-down, employee acceptance from bottom-up), available tools and methods for demonstrating HFE benefits, and proceduralized accountability for HFE in projects. The companies that report positively on being able to address HFE issues proactively have HFE input integrated procedurally into new project start-ups, and the HF agent has a sign-off role. These companies have also, on a high organizational level, established linkage between HFE improvements and business objectives.

empirical study

comparison study

soft systems

qualitative study


Organizational ergonomics


Cecilia Berlin

Chalmers, Product and Production Development, Production Systems

The Ergonomics Open Journal

1875-9343 (ISSN)

Vol. 4 131-144

Subject Categories

Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics

Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy

Other Mechanical Engineering

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance




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