Using qualitative methodology in ergonomics : theoretical background and practical examples.
Qualitative methodology offers the opportunity for ergonomists to investigate work problems and research questions using context-sensitive tools for data collection and analysis. This is particularly useful in contexts with complex social and cultural dimensions, for example the high level of emotional and intimate personal interactions between staff and patients in the health care industry. Two aims have been achieved in this thesis. The first is to set out a clear process for using qualitative methodology in ergonomics by taking a middle ground position with respect to the background philosophy. A generic process for carrying out qualitative research is described and shown in detail in the two case studies. The ergonomists case study found that there was considerable interest in expanding the ergonomics tool box to include qualitative methodology. However concerns were raised about a perceived lack of knowledge with respect to the process for doing qualitative research. This needs to be addressed by including teaching qualitative methodology in ergonomics courses. The second aim is use qualitative methodology to identify characteristics of hospitals with respect to the practice of ergonomics. Three themes emerged: organisational issues (complexity and size); staff issues (multiplicity of professionals and gender); and patient issues (dirty and emotional work; patient expectations; and life, death and mistakes). These themes were also found in the practical case study on manual handling problems in occupational therapy. This suggests that knowledge of the characteristics of an industry can help the ergonomist to understand the context of the work problem or research question. A final dynamic model of ergonomics is proposed to bring together the internal dimensions of a person (representing physical, cognitive and spiritual levels) and the external dimensions of their interactions at a micro level (e. g. tasks) and at wider organisational and societal levels (macro). This model shows the importance of using qualitative methodology to achieve a more complete understanding of human interactions: the basis of the definition of ergonomics.