Lunchtime seminar series – 24th February: Roland Edwards (University of Manchester)

CHSTMSeminar Roland Edwards

The Exploitation of Ergonomics Research by the TUC – or not!

Post war Labour and Conservative administrations viewed the application of human factors research as a viable means of raising individual and group productivity across the workforce to ease any balance of payments issues and help modernise UK industry. From 1947 until the formation of the Science Research and Social Science Research Councils governments established and funded a series of human factors research panels such as the Individual Efficiency Committee and the Human Sciences Committee which were empowered to identify, contract and fund both social science and ergonomics research. These panels comprised members from academia, the employers’ federations and the TUC.

From the outset the employers’ federations were ambivalent in their support for these committees, viewing them as government interference in their business processes. The TUC, however were staunch supporters and championed their output, in particular ergonomics research. The exploitation of ergonomics research into the industrial base was, however hampered by a relative lack, until the mid to late 1960s of ergonomics practitioners and the apparent resistance by the employers and employers’ associations.  The TUC made active efforts to stimulate both education and exploitation of ergonomics in the UK and across Western Europe. Through their leadership of the European Productivity Council they were responsible for organising the first international conference in ergonomics and nurtured the formation of the International Ergonomics Association. In the UK they included ergonomics lectures in their work study courses and held a series of conferences on general ergonomics and specific issues such as ergonomics and safety in the design of commercial vehicle cabs.

In this presentation I will explain the ideological reasons behind the TUC’s support for ergonomics and then describe the attempt by the TUC to persuade the government to encourage bodies responsible for management and design training to increase attention given to ergonomic  in their courses. This will expose the tensions that existed between departments at the approach to a general election and how, and why the request changed from education to procurement action.

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