I’m hoping to engage some discussion as this board attracts the whole spectrum of people with an interest in ergonomics. This re-examination of who ergonomists are I think is always a healthy one as the contributors often change. Here is the background:
After a philosophical discussion with another ergo, we were rehashing thoughts around ‘who calls themselves ergonomists’ and also ‘who undertakes ergonomics consultancies’.
The first question is: if you did one course/class at university as an undergraduate in ergonomics, do you call yourselves an ergonomist? Or would it take more (i.e. the accredited courses recognised by the IEA?).
The second question is: if you only practice one part of ‘ergonomics’ only part of the time – are you really a ‘professional’ ergonomist, or are you really a physio/OT/kinesiologist/industrial engineer/safety professional/rehab consultant etc with an ‘interest’ in ergonomics?
As I’m posting this on aus_ergo as well, it will be interesting to see if there are differences in responses!
No one has taken the challenge to respond to your question yet. I feel I’m hurling myself into the lion’s den, but I thought I would go out on a limb and give some input from an Occupational Therapist’s perspective.
In addition to “Registered/Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L)”, I use the credential “CEAS” when I do Ergonomic Evaluations/Assessments. Suffice it to say I do not have a Master’s degree in Ergonomics, etc, but I have had a good deal of training and personal studies beyond the minimal requirements for that designation. I wonder what you had in mind when you asked “if you did one course/class at university as an undergraduate in ergonomics, do you call yourselves an ergonomist? Or would it take more?” It sounds as though you disapprove of any training less than a Master’s degree in Ergonomics, Human Factors, etc.
I wouldn’t call myself an Ergonomist, but I feel quite strongly that those I evaluate receive a level of expertise that is quite beneficial, and the businesses that pay my fee feel they have gotten their money’s worth. Not to mention out of practicality that there are at least a few hundred-thousand people in my community and the BCPE only lists two certificants in the surrounding vicinty. There might be plenty of room to debate what roles should be taken on by a Certified Ergnomist vs. a professional with less specific training in the field, but I have no doubt I belong on the playing field.
Your second question about whether I am “REALLY a ‘professional’ ergonomist” or am I REALLY an OT with an interest in Ergonomics – comes across dripping with disdain. Again, I do not refer to myself as a professional ergonomist, nor does my credential imply it. However, I frequently use my dual roles as a selling point. I have spent 6 years treating upper extremity cumulative trauma disorders that were not prevented by employing Ergonomics. Before that, I worked in “Cubical Land”, as I like to refer to Corporate America, for another 5 1/2 years. I feel that gives me quite a bit of insight into how injuries develop and what activities and positioning to be wary of, especially in the upper extremity, as well as how similar circumstances affect the rest of the body.
I feel you do yourself and the field of Ergonomics a disservice when you imply that someone with less training cannot make a contribution toward improving a client’s Ergonomics. At the same time, I would acknowledge that the lack of oversight in those practicing Ergonomics outside the control of the BCPE or any other body can lead to poor quality and bad marketing for Ergonomics as a whole.
Thanks for asking your question. Like yourself, I’m anxious to hear other perspectives. Please share what you hear from the other forums you communicate with.
ERIC GERKEN, OTR/L, CEAS
RENO, NV, USA
I am in full agreement with you and I will jump into the lions den with you!! … I am a PT by training and after years of experience in rehabilitating people with injuries from repetative stress, all I do now is implement changes to prevent the injury.
I feel that as a health professionals, we have very practical “fix the problem solutions” and are experts at educating the person on the reasons for their issues and why to implement the solution..This is what we do in rehab… I am not sure that ergonomists get the same kind of experience in working with people on the “human” level. Nothing beats the therapst – patient relationship…and that carries over into my work with our employees.
I also do not claim to be an ergonomist – and do not want to “be” one per say- as I percieve it as an “acedemic and detached” role for me – I want to be in the field helping people and feel I have made more of an impact on our employees lives as a PT ergonomics specialist than I ever could treating patients one on one….
I will leave the philosophical ponderings, the technical engineering details and inventions to the ergonomists.
I can tell you that I have made an impact on the 11,000 people in the organization I work for by being an ergo PT, because I am first respected as a healthcare provider…they pay more attention to me than they would to someone without the healthcare background.
This is only my reaction and is not intended to pay disrespect to any Ergonomist without a healthcare background…All I’m saying is for you not to discount the impact that we (with an interest in ergo) are having in the arena of making positive change and protecting people from injury.
I’ll take the bait and reply to your post. I am an OT with 31 yrs experience and 15 years “doing” ergonomics. I am also a certified ergonomics associate (CEA) through the BCPE since 2002. During the process of studying for and taking the CEA exam, as well as moving into a full-time position providing ergonomic services, I feel that I made the switch from being an OT with an expertise in ergonomics to being an ergonomist with a background in OT. I am quite satisfied having a technical level certification vs a professional level cert recognized by the CPE designation. Despite the differences between the two certifications, I regard myself as an ergonomist.
To answer your first question, I think it takes more than one class for someone to call themself an ergonomist. A longer formation process is needed to change one’s perspective and identity from the inside, out.
Regarding your second question, I think that a professional ergonomist, not the CPE kind, is someone with significant training and experience in ergonomics who bases their professional practice on an ergonomics model rather than a medical model. This change in perspective definitely changes one’s practice and orientation… and distinguishes me from my coworkers who are OTs, PTs, RNs, MDs etc.
Hi Trudy and all:
Well Trudy, you raised some interesting and fair questions. I think that your questions and some of the responses, point to the lack of standardization in the education and training of ergonomists. Unfortunately, there is no single path to becoming an ergonomist. I think that, and the BCPE apparently feels as well, that there are many acceptable educational backgrounds to preparation for a career in ergonomics. (I hope that I am not speaking out of turn for the BCPE, but according to their literature, they accept several different educational backgrounds as preparation for their certification processes). I think that this can be very good because it provides great diversity among our colleagues, and this enhances the profession. However, this is very different from other professions such as medicine, nursing or occupational and physical therapy or law. While there are many different schools that prepare people for these professions, the education is more standardized and everyone must pass the same exam in order to be licensed to practice in any of the above mentioned fields. In ergonomics, we don’t even have standardized certification: there is the BCPE (CPE, CHFP and CEA – my personal bias on the type of certifcation U.S. practitoners should have), as well as the Oxford Research Institute(CIE, CAE and CHFEP) and for profit groups offering certification such as Matheson and Associates (CEES).
I am a registered occupational therapist and a CEA (BCPE associate level certification) as well. I worked for several years as an occupational therapist treating people with cumulative trauma disorders while also performing job analysis and workstation assessments, while of course studying and using the principles of ergonomics in this work. I never considered myself an ergonomist until recently when I earned the CEA credential, I suppose that’s my own bias. As part of my preparation for certification, I have taken many continuing education courses taught by CPEs and CEAs, OTs and PTs as well as Safety Professionals and have taken graduate courses in human factors and ergonomics at a major U.S. university. I am also pursuing a master’s degree in rehabilitation science with a minor in human factors/ergonomics. Unfortunately, the minor is the only program that my university offers in ergonomics. While I think that this path is best for me, I cannot say that a different path is lesser preparation.
I will say this, the thing that bothers me the most is when ergonomic product or furniture sales people position themselves as “ergonomics consultants”. I have come to know a few of these people fairly well on a business level, and I have to say I am distressed when they tell me how they are conducting themselves in the field. They often tell me about instances in which they are giving their clients advice on workstation set up, appropriate posture and other areas in which I feel they are not qualified. And some of the people receiving this advice have a CTD or other medical condition! The particular sales people I am speaking of have no educational background in ergonomics, health and safety, or occupational or physical therapy. I think this situation creates a level of public confusion about ergonomics. And, unfortunately, when an employer has an injured employee, perhaps with a particular diagnosis, this person may not get the appropriate treatment due to the fact that the employer feels they have already consulted an ergonomist, when in reality, all they have received is the opinion of a salesperson. There’s nothing wrong with selling ergonomic products or office furniture, but the salespeople need to be ethical and honest with the client about who they are and what they can reasonably offer. It’s my opinion that if some of the salespeople partner with ergonomists or OT/PT’s who practice work rehabilitation and ergonomics, the salespeople stand to benefit because we can be a referral sources for their business. Anyway, that’s sort of a personal soapbox for me.
Again, Trudy, I think you raise some great questions, I hope that my posting helps to enliven everyone’s continued thought on how we practice our shared passion for helping people lead healthier lives at work.
Hi Trudy and all,
I love this post. I think it is in the eye of the beholder. But isn’t everything?
This is also true for seeing yourself as an ergonomist. My standard was to get certified through BCPE. I achieved it in 1997 and therefore, I see myself as an ergonomist. I present myself as an OT and an ergonomist. I strongly believe that I cannot withdraw any of my training from what I am doing when I’m onsite with injured people. Quite frankly, often, I have to stop and ask myself: is this OT or is this ergonomics? And, quite frankly, the answer is: Who cares? As long as I’m doing the right thing!
I have worked with many ergonomists and therapists in the last couple of years. Here is my 2 cents.
I can say that, generally, therapists are very focussed on the injured person and his/her immediate environment. This is usually great for the individual. It can also unfortunately become a flaw, especially for the employer or on the long run. With experience, most therapists will eventually see the bigger picture: the work as a system and with all its components; the determinants of workload, the design of the machine, the production requirements, the impact of one cell on the other cell, the warehouse concerns for Just-in-time…But it is just not in their education. It comes as on-the-job training. Which has its pros and cons.
In general, and as a caricature, for ergonomists, it depends on their undergrad training. Engineers will see the human as a “necessary evil” to meet production goals (sorry, guys, but I think most of you engineers will agree with me!). Kinesiologists will see the movement. Psychologists will see everything under the scope of cognitive and perceptual demands. And therapists will focus on the person differently according to whether they are OT or PT. (I told you, it was to be a caricature! don’t quote me on this!).
I have the immense priviledge of having my undergrad degree from a faculty of medicine/ rehab school and a graduate degree from an engineering school. I can relate to both. But I definitely see myself as a therapist with a broader background and an interest for anything touching return to work or maintaining the work relationship. I could help designing workstation and tools. I have. But this is not what excites me unless I do it with people I can complement well.
What makes you a good therapist at the worksite and a good ergonomist is your ability to know what you can and cannot do, to understand that you are working in a system which some of the parts you cannot control and your ability to understand what the heck you’re doing there.
As an OT, I see myself providing services to one particular person, usually injured or with symptoms. Unless you get special medical training, I don’t think you can do it as an ergonomist. I have seen pretty horrible stuff. But have’nt we all…
As an ergonomist, I see myself providing services to a larger sample of people, whom most of them have not been injured and for which sample I can use some norms to guide my problem-solving. I am not sure you can do it well when your only background is as a therapist.
Finally, I personally get annoyed when people who do work accommodation say they’re doing ergonomic consulting. Ergonomics is much more than that. Work accommodation is part of it.
As I said earlier, I guess it is all in the eye of the beholder!
I figured I should add my thoughts to this debate. I have been an occupational therapist for 26 years. I have worked in the field of work injuries for the last 19 years. This area lead me to ergonomics. I was seeing the same patients returning after going back to a job or worksite that had not been modified. When I asked the insurance company to let me go to the worksite to make changes, they refused saying it was not a covered service. So, I wrote a grant and started evaluating patients at their workplace to make changes to improve posture, reduce repetition and force. I did not go into this as an ergonomist, but evolved into that role. I have been doing “some level of ergonomics” now for 18 years. I received my CEA in 2001. It was not until I received my CPE from BCPE in 2005 that I felt comfortable calling myself an ergonomist.
As a therapist and CEA, I did technician level ergonomics on a micro level. This involved looking at individual workers in specific jobs. I think that is what most therapists are doing if they think about it. It is a very important role, especially for the injured worker. Most CPE’s I know, look at a broader scope or bigger picture, with a focus on engineering out risks in a proactive manner, rather than responding to injuries in a more reactive way. There is a role for both approaches, because injuries are going to be here for awhile.
I now teach ergonomics to OT graduate students. I find that they have a great enthusiasm for the field. Introducing them to ergonomics has made them realize how much a role it plays in everyday activities of daily living as well as work. It helps to round out their skills but does not make them ergonomists. As in any profession, ongoing experience, practice and training helps a true professional evolve and develop skills. As such, we are all evolving ergonomists. It is probably more appropriate for therapists to emphasize the therapy part of their intervention if that is what they are doing and they are not certified. Maybe they should call themselves ergotherapists?
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