A new International Standard on the design of work systems is expected to result in improved user health, safety, and performance as well as cost savings for business.

A work system involves a combination of people and equipment, within a given space and environment, and the interactions between these components within a work organization.

Published by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), ISO 6385:2004, Ergonomic principles in the design of work systems, offers a route to improving the interface between individual users and the components of their working situation - such as tasks, equipment, workspace and environment - right from the beginning of the design process.

For example, concerns over family problems may cause distraction, predisposing workers to errors. The right design of workplaces can minimize the potential for human error or, where concentration is vital, providing additional social support.

The new standard provides a framework for the design of new or existing work systems, with a view to facilitating the work behaviour and well being of users, from office staff to assembly-line workers. Its guidance may also apply to the design of products for domestic and leisure activities.

ISO 6385:2004, which replaces ISO 6385:1981, has been updated to include a description of the design process, definitions of ergonomics and ergonomic design principles and gives an overview of the components involved in the design of a work system.

"ISO 6385 is relevant for all sectors, not only heavy industry, but also the growing service industries and the health sector, " says Wietske Eveleens, Convenor of the working group that developed the new standard. "ISO 6385 helps professionals in the creation of durable solutions when facing the challenge of human centred technical innovation in a quickly changing world.

The new standard is aimed to be used by managers, workers (or their representatives) and professions such as ergonomists, human resources, project managers, and designers who are involved in the design or redesign of work systems.

ISO 6385:2004 costs 67 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes and from ISO Central Secretariat. The new standard is the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 159, Ergonomics, subcommittee SC 1, Ergonomic guiding principles.