Human Factors Background Information


Human factors is a multidisciplinary science that studies and applies information about human behavior, capabilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design and evaluation of tools, machines, tasks, jobs, systems and environments for productive, effective and safe human use.

Seminars and Workshops

Learn more about forensics human factors by attending one of our seminars and workshops.

Recommended books

Learn more about ergonomics and human factors by reading one of these recommended books.


For definitions of specialized human factors and ergonomics terms, see our glossary.


One of the main forces that led to the development of human factors as a formal discipline arose during World War II, when experimental psychologists evaluated accidents related to aircraft, radar, and other equipment. They determined that the design of the human-machine interface substantially contributed to the accidents, because the interfaces, such as cockpits and instrument panels, were not designed to accommodate the physical, perceptual and cognitive capabilities and limitations of the operators. Implementation of the recommended solutions resulted in decreased accidents.

Human information processing:

Important contributions to understanding human perceptual and cognitive characteristics come from models of human information processing. These models help describe and predict causes of accidents. To learn more about each stage of the model, click on its box. Description of each stage is provided in the context of a trip-and-fall incident. Similar models and descriptions could be created for other injury incidents.

Domain of human factors:

The application of the human factors discipline has evolved over the past 60 years to a wide range of tools, machines, systems, and environments with which humans interact. Knowledge and analysis of human physical, perceptual, and cognitive characteristics are used in investigations of accidents, including falls, workplace accidents, and vehicular accidents, that occur when interacting with these things.

Understanding accidents by understanding human perception and action:

Most of our everyday activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, using a computer, operating machinery, and driving, require us to see features of our environment, recognize them as being relevant to our activity or not, and then to act upon those perceptions. Understanding how this process occurs is critical for understanding accidents. Many studies have shown that human error is the most common cause of accidents, and that most of these errors result from perceptual and attentional failure. However, studies also show that accidents attributed to human error are often the result of a poorly designed tool, product, system, environment, or hazard warning. The role of the human factors expert is to determine the contributions of the person and the environment. One way to do this is to examine capabilities and limitations of the human information processing system.