第35期專題:訪Dr. Chien-Chi Chang談〝Harmony of Work Life





Harmony of Work Life: An Interview with Dr. Chien-Chi Chang




  訪問企劃:林迪意(會訊主編)、簡君因/Jiun-Yin Jian(會訊編輯,德州理工大學工業工程博士候選人)



Dr. Chien-Chi (Max) Chang is a research scientist at the internationally recognized research facility, the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Boston, U.S.A.  His work involves the application of biomechanics to the study of physical interactions of workers with their tools, machines, and materials.  The key of his research is to determine how to maximize worker performance while minimizing the risks of musculoskeletal disorders. Currently, Dr. Chang is conducting an investigation of worker behaviors during manual materials handling (MMH) tasks under various loading and working conditions.  The information from the study will be employed to establish optimum motion prediction and workstation design.  He is also investigating slips-and-falls prevention through studies of kinematic and kinetic responses of human subjects under various physical and mental workloads involved in performing tasks.  His research findings have been published in several journals such as Journal of Biomechanics, International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, and Safety Science.  One of his recent publications, “Safety Trade-Offs in MMH Tool Selection,” was published in the periodical Ergonomics in Design by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.


Jiun-Yin Jian: I learned that you have a background in Mechanical Engineering.  What made you change your concentration into ergonomics, especially biomechanics?  What were the challenges throughout the “transformation”?


Dr. Max Chang: When I was in graduate school, I had an opportunity to work on a research project in developing an online ergonomics information delivery system.  That experience set off the beginning of my road to ergonomics.  Besides, it appears to me that ergonomics is a field in which the “human factor” is taken into consideration for many applications and is a challenging research topic.  Therefore, I decided to explore this field acquire more knowledge about human factors and ergonomics.


The most challenging difficult part, to me, of working in the area of ergonomics is to overcome the image as a “soft” science.  As a researcher with an engineering background, I believe that substantial mathematical modeling and data collection from either laboratory or field experiments could fulfill these shortcomings in the fields of human factors and ergonomics.


JJ: What are the difficulties conducting ergonomics studies in industry?


Max: In the field…, the most difficult part is that many times experiments interrupt workers’ operations.  So now, the concern is, the manager may not be that happy and will not give 100% support to the study.  One way to resolve the conflicts is to make sure upper management is willing to cooperate with our experimenters.  It is a challenge to convince the upper management and make sure they understand that the study could also potentially provide a mutual benefit for both sides – a win-win situation.


JJ: What do you think are the differences of human factors/ergonomics applications between United States and Taiwan?


Max: To my knowledge, ergonomics studies in the United States have become main stream in examining the prevention of workers’ injuries.  As far as I understand, most research in Taiwan still focuses on the treatment of recoveries, or say return to work.  Researchers in ergonomics should pay attention not only to the recovery of injured workers (after the fact) but also should put more effort on the prevention of incidents (before the fact).


JJ: You have frequently employed anthropometric database into your research.  What is the potential future for that?  How do you, as a HF practitioner, take that into consideration in workstation design and/or worker’s performance evaluations?


Max: The anthropometric parameters are important and useful in many applications and are one of the fundamental functions of ergonomics.  The optimal scenario will be to design a task, tool, or product dedicated to fit each individual.  However, such a best scenario design would have its difficulty in practice because of many considerations such as soaring costs.  Thus, the design using anthropometric databases based on specific populations becomes an alternative and important consideration.  A design employing suitable anthropometric data could help people work in a safer working environment and live more comfortably in their day-to-day activities. 


Anthropometry is important not only from the viewpoint of accessibility and functionality, but is also important from the standpoint of worker safety.  The effective use of the anthropometric data can result in more suitable task, product, or workstation designs.  It might not only increase the productivity of the workers, but also could reduce potential injuries.  Examples could include the proper design of personal protective equipment in minimizing discomfort and ensuring adequate protection, to the design of machine guards in protecting the operators’ fingers and hands, etc.


JJ: What is the future of MMH regarding both workers and tool designs – since more and more automated systems have been introduced and replace traditional labor intensive tasks?


Max: I agree that many traditional labor-intensive tasks could be reduced owing to automation.  Automation can possibly substitute for those highly repeated, consistent, routine jobs.  However, human is a precise machine and human performs better than machines in many ways.  There will always be a need of humans to conduct certain tasks for which automation is not feasible or impractical.  New automation designs may eliminate the need of traditionally labor-intensive tasks in some areas; however, these may also create some new challenges for ergonomists in other ways. 


JJ: Is it possible to clone humans in order to achieve the “ideal” and “desired” human capacities for optimal work performance?


Max: I don’t think so, at least for now.  We don’t even fully understand how the entire human system works.  The study of how human “hardware” such as the musculoskeletal system coordinates with the human “software,” e.g. cognition, behaviors, reactions, and so on, are still a big areas for researchers to work on now and in the future. I would think it will be hard to duplicate the full capacity of human beings.  Besides, the definition of “ideal” is vague.  Really, it varies and is situational-, task-oriented.


JJ: You once developed a computer program related to lifting.  What and how should programmer consider while developing such a program?


Max: To be a program developer for human factors applications, it is essential to specialize in certain expertise.  By that I mean a program designer should possess domain knowledge in human factors and ergonomics.  A program designer needs to know what he or she is aiming for, what his or her clients’ need.  Another rule of thumb: find a simple solution.  Do not make the computer program too complex.  Also, a program designer should design a valid, reliable system, which produces replicable results.  That is very important.


JJ: Is a license necessary for a human factors/ergonomics practitioner?


Max: Well, as far as I know, it is not a requirement yet.  However, a license will be a good way to demonstrate the practitioner’s credibility.


JJ: How and what do you think universities should prepare their undergraduate/graduate students for work?


Max: I think inviting speakers from various industries will present real world working experiences to students.  And, a co-op or an internship will provide the best opportunities to students for having hands-on experiences.  The co-op or internship can prepare students to know future directions and emphases in human factors and ergonomics.  I would also like to suggest that HF programs incorporate epidemiology, physiology, psychology, and biomechanics into their disciplines: epidemiology could identify the causes of injuries; physiology investigates the human capabilities; psychology understands human minds; and biomechanics reflect human body’s responses in motion.  I have heard other researchers in discussing the necessities of teaching these disciplines in HF programs.  But, I think it all depends on the mission of the certain HF program.  There are always trade-offs.  There is no right or wrong answer.


JJ: What are the potential directions for human factors and ergonomics in the future?


Max: I believed there is still a long way to go.  Studies of ergonomics should evolve towards more human or worker related designs.  The other thing I’d like to mention is that ergonomics studies should also be more based upon scientific data evidence resulting from well-designed research.  Conclusions should not be drawn solely on the basis of “expert opinions” or “experiences.”  Overall, I see a future for ergonomics studies and I am looking forward to the harmony of work life.