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When you are typing on your computer keyboard, do you have the "h" key lined up with your bellybutton? Are your hands as flat as possible and only two or three inches above your thighs? These are questions that might be asked by members of the Old Dominion University Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Student Chapter.

A lot of computer users cannot answer yes to those questions, which is a matter of concern for specialists in the field of human factors and ergonomics. Many users of stationary units and laptops have not been exposed to proper-usage training, or else ignore it. Also, many computers and computer stations have been designed more for containment of costs than for prevention of arm and hand injuries or eyestrain.

The growing popularity of the three-year-old Old Dominion University HFES student chapter is just one indication of how this interdisciplinary field is catching on. Ernesto A. Bustamante, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Psychology and president of the chapter, said the group expected provisional acceptance as an official ODU student organization before the end of June and permanent acceptance in the fall.

Human factors is a specialty examining characteristics of humans that are applicable to the design of systems and devices of all kinds. In Bustamante's words: "Human factors examines humans' capabilities and limitations while interacting with technology, with the purpose of designing more usable, safer, more efficient and more user-centered systems."

At ODU, human factors is part of the curriculum in psychology, engineering and modeling and simulation. Bustamante said the 20 members of the ODU chapter come from all three disciplines. James Bliss, associate professor of psychology, is the faculty sponsor.

Projects of the local group have focused recently on workplace safety. Members won an ODU competition for the best safety slogan and wrote guidelines regarding human factors principles to help Habitat for Humanity increase safety at its work sites. Habitat volunteers build homes for underprivileged people.

The chapter is in the process of applying for federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) funds for a study of how human habits relate to workplace safety.

This article was posted on: June 30, 2005

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