Increasing safety and security

Ergonomics and human factors have a long history in defence. In fact, it was the First World War that prompted the first scientific investigations into human capability. For instance, concern about fatigue in munitions factories in the UK led to the establishment of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board, which carried out investigations into the effect of working conditions on health and efficiency.

The huge demands placed on soldiers by the proliferation of new technology such as radar, anti-aircraft tracking systems and high speed aircraft during the Second World War provided further impetus to the desire to understand the limits of human capacities.

The military recognised that while technology might have unlimited potential, it had to be designed with a full understanding of the human operator. In order to design effective technology the limits of all human abilities had to be examined and this need led to seminal research into the physical and psychological capabilities of human beings.

Today, ergonomics and human factors in the defence sector is applied through the UK MOD's Human Factors Integration (HFI) framework. Knowledge on human factors includes human physical and mental capabilities and limitations, behaviour during normal and extreme situations, and insights on minimizing human error and organisational mistakes relevant to the design of the system (including maintenance equipment, technology, infrastructure, processes, procedures, and job roles).

Human Factors Integration

Human Factors Integration (HFI) is the UK MOD’s framework by which the Human Component of Defence Capability is brought together and made to work in defence systems. It includes a systematic process for identifying, tracking and satisfactorily addressing people-related considerations ensuring a balanced development of both technologies and human aspects of capability. The HFI framework includes seven related ‘domains’ which allow for all aspects of human behaviour, capability and limitations to be addressed. These are:

  • Manpower
  • Personnel
  • Training
  • Human Factors Engineering
  • System Safety
  • Health Hazard Assessment
  • Social & Organisational

In the US the equivalent initiative is known as Human Systems Integration (HSI), which although different in scope, shares common objectives, principles and techniques.  Effective HFI/HSI has been shown to reduce the probability of adverse safety and health outcomes, reduce the chance of program failure, improve escapability performance and reduce through life costs.

In the US, HSI was directly responsible for improved engine maintainability on the USAF F22 Raptor. The extensive commitment by the manufacturer to improving maintainability was central to the manufacturer’s competitive strategy for addressing the US Air Force requirements and becoming the supplier of choice.

As a result:

  • Only five hand tools are required to service the engine
  • All line replaceable units are designed to be serviceable without replacing any other
  • Each unit is replaceable using a single tool within 20 mintues
  • Maintenance is possible while wearing hazardous environment protection clothing

The use of a $20k investment for a bridge design mock up to identify HSI design deficiencies in the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program achieved cost avoidance of $10M. A bridge mock up is useful for improving poor situation awareness for the command team, identifying space restrictions, excessive reach distances and visibility issues.

DDG-1000s are equipped with a variety of new technologies that allow the ship to operate with a much smaller crew — roughly half that of the DDG-51s. Over the course of a 35-year service life this personnel difference could save taxpayers $280 million per ship, given that Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.

The UK MOD Joint Service Publication (JSP) 912 sets out the guidance and doctrine surrounding Defence Standard 00-251 Human Factors for the Designers of Systems which provides a major source of Human Factors data and guidance, organised around the seven HFI domains, providing a focus for HFI activities and close ties to Health and Safety. Access DefStan 00-251 here (with registration).


Case Studies

Responding to disaster using autonomous systems

Posted on 9/12/2017
Researchers describe the use of autonomous agents in dealing with complex emergency situations and their effectiveness in assisting human responders to manage the issues that arise in dealing with such situations.

The collective impact of human capability

Posted on 6/10/2015
Karen Carr discusses how a non-deterministic approach to human capability will allow the Ministry of Defence to fully realise the potential of complex systems.

Cyber security and insider threats

Posted on 6/11/2015
Participatory ergonomics may provide the key to enhancing cyber security, particularly against insider threats.