Last week, I attended the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia’s conference in Adelaide.

For me, one of the standout themes of the event was the use of emerging technologies in various industries, and how important the role of human factors (HF) is in developing them.

Chris Reid (Boeing) gave an inspiring insight into HF application in this area. His presentation highlighted a number of new technologies, ranging from gloves for astronauts designed to reduce the risk of hand injuries through to exoskeleton designs to support manual handling tasks on the production floor at Boeing. What was clear from the presentation was the value placed on supporting the end user of technological advancements through HF processes.

Another standout presentation was delivered by Sara Pazell (Viva Health at Work). Pazell advocated for HF and ergonomics integration at every level of projects and urged practitioners to consider themselves as designers (whether physically, cognitively, even through policy and procedures). The presentation was a lesson in how to convince ‘nay sayers’ of the value of human factors and how it is always stronger when integrated throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Taking a different approach to design was a thought-provoking presentation by Kirsty Trudgett (Transport for NSW). This ‘Design for Exclusion’ presentation flipped the concept of designing for inclusion by focusing on what happens when we need to exclude.

So often, we refer to designs setting people up to fail, but what happens if we absolutely do not want people to ‘succeed’ in their goal? The focus was on designing systems that do not support vulnerable people to be able to succeed in their goal of ending their lives. This powerful presentation examined how we can better design to ensure vulnerable people are considered within the system.

These presentations really brought to life the challenges with technology and design. We know that technology such as AI, Chat GPT, Robotics are all developing so quickly and are going to impact work systems. This conference cemented the value that human factors can offer so many industries in harnessing this technology, integrating it effectively into the system, and ultimately best supporting the human to work to their full potential.

To keep up with the rapid pace of change, I think that HF as a discipline will need to evolve to ensure that we are prepared for technology advancements. Particularly, ensuring that a range of courses are available to young people who will perhaps be more adept at understanding the technological changes occurring, and then working collaboratively with more experienced practitioners to ensure we continue to best support industry.

Julia Hobbley | Human Factors Consultant

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