6

Occupational health

I suppose that even the most pleasurable of occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.

James Grover Thomas, 1945, The Thurber Carnival, ‘Memoirs of a Drudge’

One of these was called Procrustes or the stretcher. He had an iron bedstead on which he used to tie all travellers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed he stretched their limbs to make them fit; if they were longer than the bed he lopped off a portion.

Thomas Bullfinch, 1796-1867, The Age of Fable

The work environment can present a number of dangers, or hazards, to workers—a hazard being defined as ‘the potential to cause harm’ (Pheasant, 1997:117). In extreme situations, these hazards could seriously affect the health of the workers and, in some circumstances, they might even be life threatening. An important goal of Human Factors psychology is to protect the worker by attempting to design work environments that remove health hazards and thus prevent accidents and incidents in the workplace. In this context, British psychologists work closely with the Health and Safety Executive.

To understand hazards in the workplace, it is important to consider their sources. Some of these dangers will emanate from the workers themselves, e.g. tendencies for individuals to engage in risky or dangerous behaviour perhaps as the result of fatigue and/or stress. In Chapter 5, stress was mentioned on a number of occasions and, indeed, job stress is a primary area of concern. Smither (1994:472) gave the example quoted by the American National Defense Council that ‘as many as 10,000 Japanese work themselves to death every year’. Occupational stress is therefore an important aspect when considering health and safety issues in the workplace. Further, some hazards will stem from errors in human-machine system design while others will be caused by conditions of the work environment that may harm the workers’ health and create work-related disorders, even

-118-

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Designing for Humans
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables viii
  • Figures ix
  • Preface x
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • 1 - Human Factors 1
  • 2 - Humans: Capabilities and Limitations 20
  • 3 - Human-Machine Interaction 38
  • 4 - Work Environments 70
  • 5 - Organisational Issues 97
  • 6 - Occupational Health 118
  • 7 - Safety 137
  • Epilogue 163
  • References 166
  • Author Index 202
  • Subject Index 207
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