Preface from Steven Shorrock

Around ten years ago, I found myself caught between two worlds. I had spent several years in practice in various industries, as an internal consultant in an air traffic service provider and as an external consultant in an international consultancy. Then I moved to academia, and set up as a sole trader on the side. I loved both research and practice, and was intrigued by the cross-over, and often, the lack of it. I found that the two worlds had different goals, values, resources, constraints, ways of working and methods of communication. Most of the books and journal articles on human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) were written by people situated in academia. But much of the writing on HF/E did not speak directly to the worlds in which I found myself as a practitioner, or to some of the issues that seemed to really matter in practice. The late John Wilson pointed out that one should not talk of HF/E being a science but a discipline, and – crucially – one that blends craft, science and engineering. The craft side of HF/E, while a strong focus for practitioners and deeply embedded in context, has received much less attention in the literature.

There seemed to be a gap for a text that speaks more directly to practitioners of HF/E (specialists or those in related professions), written predominately by those embedded in industry or with strong industry links. HF/E, like work, is fundamentally contextual and situated. There are texts on practice and professional issues for other disciplines and professions, often written by practitioners (e.g. school psychologists, teachers, therapists, management consultants, and helping professions generally). These books do not provide description and instruction on theory and methodology as such, but rather address ‘life as a practitioner’, including the context, conditions, constraints, challenges and compromises that make up the real world of practice. This differs from ‘textbook HF/E’, which may be conceptually and methodologically thorough and well-written, but is devoid of the ‘mess’ in the contexts that people, including HF/E specialists, work with and within, and many of the contextual and situational factors that really make a difference, such as practitioner characteristics and the relationships through which HF/E works.

In April 2005 and April 2007, at the conference of the (now) Chartered Institute of Human Factors and Ergonomics, I was presenting papers on HF/E drawing from counselling, on the notions of skilled helping and empathy in practice. At the conferences, I met Claire Williams, a practitioner who was also doing a PhD on HF/E practitioner expertise and competencies. We stayed in touch and some years later decided to try to bring about a book on issues relevant to practitioners. Over our careers to date, we have both worked in practice and research, in industry and academia, and value similar things about the discipline and profession, in particular the diversity of HF/E and how we adjust to messy worlds in which we find ourselves. These are themes that gradually emerge in this book. Over the past decade or so, we have also become trusted friends and mutual sounding boards. There are few other people with whom I can imagine undertaking something like this book; we did it because we thought it was quite important and because we would learn a lot. Like most of the authors, we wrote in our ‘spare’ time – on trains and planes, in hotels, during evenings, weekends and holidays. Sometimes, it seemed impossibly ambitious. Coordinating and editing a book with so many experienced practitioners is in many ways harder than writing a book.

This book attempts, in some small way, to focus more on the craft side of HF/E, as well as the application of engineering and science in real contexts. It is not a textbook or a ‘tools and methods book’. Instead, it is about ‘being a practitioner’, and a celebration of the practice of HF/E, in all its diversity. We are very grateful to the practitioners who have made time to contribute to the book. We have learned from you all.

Preface from Claire Williams

I have been working as an HF/E consultant since 1996, initially providing advice to industry about how to manage musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) though gradually broadening my focus to look at health and safety more widely, particularly the cultural and behavioural aspects. Over the course of these 20 years, and about the time the ideas for this book were being formulated, I began to question my own expertise, and that of colleagues more and less qualified than me. Issues around whether HF/E interventions work; why they work; what it takes to make them work and who is capable of being successful, became important to me.

These questions became paramount in 2003, when I was promoted to Head of Ergonomics in an established occupational health consultancy. At this time I became responsible for assuring the quality of my and other’s work, and for facilitating the professional development of my ergonomics colleagues. It is against this back-drop that I started a PhD looking at expertise amongst HF/E advisors (2004) and first met and started to talk to Steve about these issues.

In my PhD (2004-2008) I aimed to further the understanding of what it meant to be ‘expert’ as an HF/E advisor. Steve and I talked regularly about issues of successful practice; whether the focus of the training courses for HF/E was too technical, too analysis-driven and insufficiently solution oriented or ‘softer-skills’ based. This became particularly important when I took on an academic teaching post on the Ergonomics Masters at the University of Derby in 2009. My students needed to be academically rigorous, but ours is an applied subject, most of them would enter practice, and I wanted to be sure they were as prepared as possible to make that step.

The need for a book that talked about practice, in all its various forms for our multi-faceted profession, gradually crystallised. Steve first spoke the idea out loud and I said yes without thinking about what it might actually mean. The thirty or so chapters which follow are that book; full of the wisdom and expertise of a great many practitioners who have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about practice; and for which I am incredibly grateful. I have learnt a great deal from reading their writing and it is my firm hope that anyone embarking on or well established in their practice will also reap great benefit from the contributions to this book.

About stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems, and Honorary Clinical Tutor at the University of Edinburgh. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.
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