Ergonomics done right.®
August 2nd, 2018

Linking Production Quality and Human Factors

by Jake Steinhebel

While the link between product quality and human factors (HF) has been evident since at least the 1960s (Harris and Chaney, 1969), many still see human factors as a field that is strictly oriented to safety, with no impact on performance (Theberge and Neumann, 2013).

A recent study due to be published in the November 2018 issue of Applied Ergonomics provides a systematic review of peer-reviewed journals on the topic published in recent years, with a focus on manufacturing processes. Titled “Production quality and human factors engineering: A systematic review and theoretical framework”, 73 different studies were examined and included in the review.

Munro and Associates Inc. (2013) have shown that up to 70% of quality issues can be the result of poor Operations Systems (OS) Design. For this study, 204 different quality risk factors (QRFs) were identified and then separated into the four different categories of OS Design; Product-related, Process-related, Workstation-related, and Individual QRFs. Next, these quality risk factors were linked to four different human and system effects based on the results of the studies reviewed; Human Errors, Poor Quality, Workload, and Fatigue.

Some of the biggest takeaways from the study:

  • 80% of studies reported Process Design QRFs.  Only 16% reported Individual QRFs.
  • Process Design (37%) and Product Design (27%) were responsible for the largest percentage of QRFs related to poor quality.
  • All papers presented evidence that better quality performance could be achieved by considering HF in each stage of OS Design.
  • Undesirable human effects of workload like fatigue and injury-related risk factors result in quality deficits.

The evidence has shown that there is considerable potential to address quality issues by applying HF principles in the OS design stages, when it is far more cost effective than retrofitting existing systems, and managers should strive to integrate human factors into any firm’s strategy.


Harris, D. H., & Chaney, F. B. (1969). Human factors in quality assurance. New York (etc.): J. Wiley.
Kolus, A., Wells, R., & Neumann, P. (2018). Production quality and human factors engineering: A systematic review and theoretical framework. Applied Ergonomics,73, 55-89. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2018.05.010
Theberge, N., & Neumann, W. P. (2013). The Relative Role of Safety and Productivity in Canadian Ergonomists’ Professional Practices. Relations Industrielles,68(3), 387. doi:10.7202/1018433ar