An Evaluation of the Effects of Human Factors and Ergonomics on Health Care and Patient Safety Practices: A Systematic Review

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 12;10(6):e0129948. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129948. eCollection 2015.


Background: From the viewpoint of human factors and ergonomics (HFE), errors often occur because of the mismatch between the system, technique and characteristics of the human body. HFE is a scientific discipline concerned with understanding interactions between human behavior, system design and safety.

Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of HFE interventions in improving health care workers' outcomes and patient safety and to assess the quality of the available evidence.

Methods: We searched databases, including MEDLINE, EMBASE, BIOSIS Previews and the CBM (Chinese BioMedical Literature Database), for articles published from 1996 to Mar.2015. The quality assessment tool was based on the risk of bias criteria developed by the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organization of Care (EPOC) Group. The interventions of the included studies were categorized into four relevant domains, as defined by the International Ergonomics Association.

Results: For this descriptive study, we identified 8, 949 studies based on our initial search. Finally, 28 studies with 3,227 participants were included. Among the 28 included studies, 20 studies were controlled studies, two of which were randomized controlled trials. The other eight studies were before/after surveys, without controls. Most of the studies were of moderate or low quality. Five broad categories of outcomes were identified in this study: 1) medical errors or patient safety, 2) health care workers' quality of working life (e.g. reduced fatigue, discomfort, workload, pain and injury), 3) user performance (e.g., efficiency or accuracy), 4) health care workers' attitudes towards the interventions(e.g., satisfaction and preference), and 5) economic evaluations.

Conclusion: The results showed that the interventions positively affected the outcomes of health care workers. Few studies considered the financial merits of these interventions. Most of the included studies were of moderate quality. This review highlights the need for scientific and standardized guidelines regarding how HFE should be implemented in health care.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Ergonomics*
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety*
  • Quality of Health Care*

Grant support

This project was supported by the National Natural Science foundation of China (NSFC) No. 70973083 ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.