What is Ergonomics and Who are Ergonomists??
Awareness of ergonomics has increased greatly over the past two decades. Issues related to ergonomics are frequently discussed in the media and have been the focus of attention for government departments, workers' compensation boards, and private and public work places. Post-secondary educational institutions have been adding courses related to ergonomics to their curricula. All this attention and the recognition of the benefits to be gained from ergonomics has increased the demand for people who can provide ergonomics related services. Those who apply ergonomics theory and use ergonomics evaluation and design methods/principles are called ergonomists.
The recognition of the benefits of ergonomics and the publicity it has received has created a demand for ergonomics related services and products. Unfortunately, groups and/or individuals that may not be qualified to provide such services or products have, in some cases, filled this demand. Many potential users of ergonomics services become confused when trying to ensure that they hire a company or individual who is qualified to competently assist them with their ergonomic assessment and design issues. The purpose of this statement is to provide some guidance to those considering the field of ergonomics and those companies or individuals that are planning to hire an ergonomics consulting service.
What Ergonomists Do
Ergonomists participate in the design of systems to optimize overall system performance. From an ergonomics point-of-view, a system is comprised of devices, tools, technologies, environments, and/or organizational structures with which people interact to accomplish defined objectives. Ergonomists contribute to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people. Ergonomists use a holistic approach and will ensure that physical, cognitive, social, organizational, environmental and other relevant factors are taken into account when making recommendations regarding the design or modification of a system.
Because of the wide scope of ergonomics, the academic background of an ergonomist can vary widely. An ergonomist may have a degree in psychology, engineering, medicine, kinesiology, computer science, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, etc. However, a background in kinesiology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, engineering, psychology, etc. is not, in itself, enough to make someone an ergonomist. This background is a good starting point but ergonomists need to have specific education and training in ergonomics methods, theory, concepts, and principles. This is obtained only when a person takes a variety of university level courses that cover different ergonomics subject areas. Just taking a single course called 'ergonomics' isn't enough. After all, you wouldn't want someone to treat you for a heart problem if they had taken a single course call 'medicine'. An engineer, occupational therapist, kinesiologist, psychologist, doctor, etc. would not typically have been exposed to the breadth of courses required to be an ergonomist unless s/he consciously took electives and courses that were outside of the standard courses offered as part of their academic program.
Appendix 1 illustrates the scope of courses a person should be exposed to before practicing in the area of ergonomics. Even then, further education may be required depending on what specific area of ergonomics a person wishes to practice. Examples of the many varied application areas for ergonomics are provided in Appendix 2.
If a person has the appropriate academic background to be an Ergonomist then they can apply to be recognized as an Associate Ergonomist (AE) by the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE). Once an individual has the appropriate amount of relevant professional experience in the field of ergonomics they can apply to have their designation upgraded to Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE). The CCCPE and other similar certification bodies around the world were formed to help ensure that all those wishing to practice as Ergonomists have the academic and practical experience to competently serve the public.
At present, there is no law to limit who can call themselves an 'Ergonomist'. It is truly a 'buyer beware' situation, so if you are considering hiring an ergonomist, ask questions about the individual's background, qualifications, and training.
Consider the following basic questions…
1) Is the person's academic background and training recognized by a certifying body and/or by an ergonomics association/society?
Especially if looking for a consultant to perform project work, contracting a certified professional takes much of the guesswork out of whether the person(s) is/are qualified.
Specifically, is s/he certified by:
If looking to hire an in-house ergonomics resource, check with the above groups too. Designations exist to denote that a candidate has the required academic background, but perhaps not extensive experience to date. In these cases, look for designations such as:
While the number of certified ergonomists is rapidly growing, not all qualified ergonomists are currently certified. Check if these individuals were Full Members of ACE (pre 2002), as this was the minimum criterion for endorsing a consultant prior to certification through the CCCPE, or if the individual is working towards his/her professional certification through CCCPE.
2) Is the person qualified to practice in the area of ergonomics you need?
3) Can the person provide relevant references?
Ergonomists come with varied backgrounds and types of experience. If you would like to hire an ergonomist, ensure competency by asking more than 'what program did you take?' If you are considering entering the field, the Association of Canadian Ergonomists can help you locate appropriate programs of study. What can you expect to pay for/make as an ergonomist?… In terms of salaries, an individual with an undergraduate or Master's degree and 0-3 years experience typically starts in the 35 - 50K range, while consultants generally charge in the range of 70.00 to 150.00 per hour dependng on education and experience.
For further assistance, contact the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE) or the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE) at 1-888-432-2223.
1) The principles and concepts of Ergonomics and how it benefits society
Appendix 2: Examples of application areas for ergonomics
1) Accidents; Health and Safety at Work