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Best Practices in HSI - Human Factors Engineering

Human factors engineering (HFE) is employed to design systems that capitalize on and do not exceed the abilities (cognitive, physical, sensory, and team dynamic) of the user population. To realize the potential of HFE contributions, it must employed early in the acquisition process. Some examples of how HFE can improve the design of a system are:

Equipment and gear may not operate properly or be suitable for operation in austere environments.
The austere conditions of the field environment prevent the use of some equipment that has been developed for typical use. Even if the equipment and gear is designed to operate in austere environments, rapid changes in temperature, humidity, and altitude, for example, may cause the equipment to malfunction.

Equipment may not be suitable for use in loud or noise prone environments.
The ability to monitor alarm conditions or equipment monitors can be difficult in a noisy environment. Personnel may have to rely on visual observation and cues rather than on auditory cues.

Equipment may not be suitable for use in low light environments.
To avoid human error and prevent the misinterpretation of equipment prompts, it is important that the equipment be designed to be operable in low light conditions.

Equipment may not interface or be compatible with other equipment or gear.
All equipment on any platform should support the rapid evacuation and transfer of casualties to the appropriate level of care required. However, due to the lack of standardized medical equipment, medical personnel may have to change patient-applied support services when transferring patient care to ensure compatibility with the equipment onboard the transfer vehicle and the new facility. Furthermore, electronic medical equipment may interfere with the operation of electronic equipment onboard the transfer vehicle.

There may not be enough room for critical personnel to fully access the work space.
Overcrowding as well as a small workspace may prevent personnel from fully accessing the working space, reducing the ability to successfully complete the mission.

The design may rely too heavily on the short term memories of personnel.
Short term memory is a limited resource that impacts the ability to process information. Systems that place extraneous cognitive demands on the user limit the availability of short term memory for working critical tasks.

There may be an overreliance on training to attempt to overcome device complexity.
Device complexity is too often addressed through targeted training of workarounds rather than design modifications informed by human factors engineering. Devices should not be so overly complex that training staff to use them becomes an extremely difficult task.

Alarms and alerts from multiple devices may be confused or obscured.
Detecting and identifying the source of auditory alarms and alerts from multiple devices places cognitive demands on personnel that are likely already overloaded. Additionally, the field environment may obscure both visual and auditory alarms and alerts due to increased background noise, low light conditions, and other distractions.

Checklists for procedural tasks may not be provided.
It is important to consider the fallibility of the human memory and attention, particularly when it comes to routine matters that are often overlooked under complex conditions. Personnel should not be expected to memorize multiple checklists and then have the ability to recall each checklist when they are needed at a critical moment. Checklists should not only be used in training, but these same checklists should be readily accessible in the actual environment, and personnel should be required to use them.

Equipment and gear may take up too much space.
Equipment should be lightweight, portable, and compact to facilitate the timely deployment and setup.

Equipment or gear may not be suitable for use in direct sunlight.
A review by Grissom and Farmer (2005) found that many of the information displays in transport-capable equipment were not designed for use in direct sunlight. Thus, many of the screens could only be viewed at limited angles, if at all, when used outdoors in sunlight.

Added weight from protective gear may hinder the mission.
Additional weight from protective gear, such as a nuclear/biological/chemical protective suit, restricts maximum lung capacity and increases metabolic energy costs. As a result, individuals become fatigued more quickly.

The design of equipment and gear may require personnel to assume uncomfortable postures.
The design of some equipment and gear may place unreasonable demands on personnel with some anthropometric characteristics. For example, a tall person may have difficult lifting heavy objects using a handle that is positioned too low.

Poor arrangement of equipment and gear may impact the performance of some personnel.
Poor arrangement of equipment and gear may impact the performance of some personnel if thought is not given to design of the physical environment to reduce noise.