Most people are probably aware of the term “ergonomics” and probably liken it to strange looking chairs and desks which are designed to support the body and protect from fatigue and back ache. However, in reality, it is much more than this and is present in everything that people are involved in.
Ergonomics not only has an influence on everyday domestic situations but also occurs in the workplace. Put simply, it is the scientific information that is applied to the design of products and systems which are used by humans, whether it be the latest design in an ironing board or a product designed for military warfare. There is a growing demand for this profession, especially in the work place, since companies are only too aware of how costly it is for staff to be off sick due to work related injuries such as repetitive strain injury or stress.
So what exactly is an Ergonomist?
Sometimes referred to as a ‘human factors person’ they ensure that equipment, services and environments are designed with the interests of the people who will use them. They apply their technical and scientific knowledge to help make things safer, more efficient and more user friendly. The job is very diverse and includes the human sciences of anatomy, physiology and psychology which involves the research and analysis of:
the manner in which limbs and muscles work
what the body is capable of doing, together with its limitations
the effects of environmental conditions such as lighting, heating and noise
how people think and react and how this affects the use of systems and equipment
What does the job entail?
This varies depending on the particular job, but could include such things as:
1. office layout design and advising on suitable furniture and equipment
2. designing equipment for disabled people
3. offering advice on setting up production lines and workstations
4. implementing systems and equipment that are easy to use and less likely to lead to mistakes
5. altering vehicle design to be more comfortable and safer for both drivers and passengers
6. carrying out trials to test new designs and giving feedback to clients or manufacturers
7. being present at industrial injury cases to act as an expert witness
What qualifications and experience are needed to become an ergonomist?
There are two ways that you can qualify for this position and these are
BSc in Ergonomics which is currently only available in the UK at Loughborough University. They offer a 3 year degree or a 4 year degree which includes a practice year in industry.
A degree in a related subject, such as sports design, psychology, engineering, biology, occupational therapy or physiotherapy followed by a Masters Degree in ergonomics.
A personal who has already worked in an area such as engineering or physiotherapy could make a change of career into the world of ergonomics.
The IHEF (Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors) is a professional organisation for this profession and offers a wealth of career and training information together with relevant courses. It can be joined on three levels: as a student, as a graduate, or as a registered membership for those people already fully qualified.
Students or graduates can take up work placement positions though the ‘opening doors’ work experience scheme operated by the IHEF. This will give them valuable experience which would be advantageous when applying for jobs.
You are more than likely to be working as part of a team alongside other professionals such as design engineers, computer specialists, health and safety personnel, industrial designers and production engineers. You could work in companies all over the world including commercial companies, research institutions and governmental departments. Other opportunities include working for, or setting up your own specialist consultancy firm.
What qualities does a ergonomist need?
Persuasiveness and diplomacy
Knowledgeable in different areas
Newly graduated persons can expect to earn between £20,000-£25,000. With 5 years experience that can rise to £25,000-£40,000. Senior people can expect to earn up to £60,000.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys variety and enjoys getting to grips with the idiosyncrasies of another person’s job, and you want to do something which can really make a difference, then this could be the perfect job for you.
* Foto: Creative Commons, By ifyr – Flickr