Growth of Ergonomics in India

Pioneering efforts

More than five decades ago, at about the same time when the European Productivity Agency (EPA), established a Human Factors Section (1955), Indian ergonomics is generally thought to have been born in the Physiology department of the Presidency College, Kolkata (then Calcutta), where extensive work was done on the energy metabolism of rickshaw pullers and Body Surface Area of the Indian adult population.
These pioneering efforts in the academic domain were extended in the early sixties to the Industrial Physiology division of the Central Labour Institute, Mumbai and the Work Physiology and Ergonomics division of the Central Mining Research Institute, Dhanbad, both affiliated to the Government of India.

Thereafter, ergonomics has spread in sporadic bursts in various sectors, including academics, defence, agriculture, design, industry, and so on.

Overview of the development of ergonomics

Ergonomics research in India in the past five decades has focused on the following main areas:

Ergonomics research, teaching and practice were introduced in these areas at different times through different institutions.

In the early sixties, the Industrial Physiology division of the Central Labour Institute, Mumbai, under the Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India, evaluated the work loads of different occupations – steel workers, soap makers, forging, glass workers, mine rescue work, to name a few, and prescribed standard methods for categorizing the heaviness of jobs. An Acceptable Work Load for Indian industrial workers was also defined. Anthropometry of the Indian population was also studied in detail.

Similar studies were initiated at about the same time at the Central Mining Research Station, Dhanbad.


The first teaching in ergonomics took place at the Department of Physiology, University of Calcutta around the year 1971, where a post-graduate science course in Work Physiology and Ergonomics was offered.


In parallel, this laboratory undertook research in many hitherto unexplored areas, including physical work capacity, load carrying, shift work, anthropometry (including segmental weights and centres of gravity), agricultural ergonomics – comprehensive studies of different aspects of rice cultivation, tea leaf plucking, and ergonomics of railway operations – design of track maintenance tools, driver cabins, and many others.

The National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad was established in 1966 under the Ministry of Health and Family Planning, Govt. of India, and from the second half of the seventies, its Occupational Physiology division did extensive research in thermal stress and comfort, agricultural ergonomics, and women workers. These were supplemented by regional centers throughout the country.

The All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata, an institute aimed at developing health manpower by providing post-graduate teaching and training facilities also carried out research in ergonomics from the second half of the seventies, the focus being on load carrying and the occupational stress of pulling a hand-pulled rickshaw. 


Ergonomics was introduced as part of the Industrial Design curriculum at the Industrial Design Centre of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), in the year 1979 at the post-graduate level, and later at the Indian Institutes of Technology Delhi, Guwahati,


and Kanpur, at the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, and also at the National Institute of Design Ahmedabad at the Post-graduate and graduate levels. All these centres contributed to the intermingling of  ergonomics with product and interaction / interface design in their respective design curricula in association with their Ph.D. programs.

While the Industrial Design Centre catered to graduate engineers, the National Institute of Design (NID) at Ahmedabad introduced ergonomics into the design curriculum of non-engineer designers at the graduate level. Development of a national anthropometric database and publication of the book “Indian Anthropometric Dimensions for Ergonomic Design Practice” in 1998 has been one of the achievements of this centre.


From about 1985, ergonomics at the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE), Mumbai centered on engineering aspects, especially those relating to Industrial Engineering. Aided by the government, NITIE has established a Centre of Excellence in Ergonomics and Human Factor Engineering (CEEHFE) as part of Government of India's Technology Mission-2020 through TIFAC (Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council) - mission REACH (Relevance and Excellence in Achieving New Heights) in the educational system.


NITIE has one of the finest ergonomics laboratories in the country, and a Diploma in Ergonomics  (D.Erg) programme was started in April 2006.

Ergonomics has always been a part of Defence research, and India has not been an exception in this regard. In 1962, the thrust areas of physiology in extreme environments (including high altitude) and ergonomic assessment of workstations and man-machine interface, a full-fledged laboratory was established. During the early years, the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS) has contributed extensively in major areas of immediate application to defence operations, including nutrition of soldiers, load carriage and distribution in infantry soldiers, thermal comfort. While continuing with these issues related to immediate operational needs, research studies were carried out on performance in extreme environments, development of a protective mechanism against noise induced hearing loss and evaluation of thermal protective clothing. Today, DIPAS is a leading laboratory in physiology and biomedical research in the country with the primary mandate of promoting human performance in extreme environments of defence operations.

 The earliest reports of enterprise-level ergonomics in India are from the Hindusthan Lever works (the Indian arm of Unilever) and Tata Steel.


The public-sector Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL), Tiruchirapalli, was the first in Indian industry to introduce an in-house Ergonomics unit in 1983, as part of its comprehensive Occupational Health Service, which is itself a national pioneer in terms of implementation of ILO recommendation 112.


At BHEL, ergonomics research was  primarily concerned with the problems of the shop-floor. Some of the major areas of concern were energy balance of manual material handlers, ergonomics evaluation of non-respiratory personal protective devices, improvement of working conditions during welding and gouging operations inside boiler drums, and the development of a job analysis format incorporating occupational health and safety components. Other public sector undertakings, notably the Steel Authority of India, have followed the lead and are replicating the BHEL model.

Formation of the Indian ergonomics society

In January, 1979, delivering the Presidential Address of the Section of Physiology at the 66th session of the Indian Science Congress, held at Hyderabad, Dr.R.N.Sen spoke of "Ergonomics, Science and Technology of Man at Work: its Role in our National Development". For the first time, the importance of the study of ergonomics and the significant role it can play in national development was emphasized in a major conference.

In 1983, a consensus was reached to form an Indian Society of Ergonomics. A proposal for the formation of an Indian Society of Ergonomics was discussed Ahmedabad, in October 1985, and the Society was formally established at in January 1987, again, at Ahmedabad.
  A meeting of the Indian Society of Ergonomics. The IEA is represented by Pat Scott

Under the auspices of this society, national and international conferences (HWWE) are organised at different locations across the country. Initially, it was proposed to have a scientific meeting annually. Every second meeting would be a national conference, and every fourth one an international conference. Of late, the demand from different host institutions has been so strident that a national ergonomics conference with international participation has become an annual event.

  HWWE in Guwahati, with David Caple, Kazutaka Kogi and Pierre Falzon.

A strong presence of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) at most of these meetings, and the organization of pre- and post- conference workshops on ergonomics methods, check-points, etc. have helped to boost the popularity of these events.

   HWWE in Kolkata. The IEA is represented by Eric Ming-Wang