Where is the “Ergonomics Community”?

Oct. 21, 2008
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference held by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). I attended the conference because of my position as vice chair of ASSE’s Ergonomics Branch.

During this weekend, I had one of those “Jerry McGuire” moments, a realization of something dramatically wrong that really needs to be addressed in the ergonomics community. The realization developed as I witnessed the incredible level of organization, focus and passion that was present in this room of safety and health professionals. The ASSE provides great leadership to its members, and creates a focal point for this group to advance both the professional needs of the members, and the needs of the profession.

The big question that arose in my mind is this: Where do ergonomics professionals go to achieve this same level of leadership? Where is the ergonomics community?

To answer this question I made a list of where people go to find the answers and guidance they seek about ergonomics:

1. Newsletters: A newsletter such as this one only provides a one-way mechanism to distribute information, and maybe some answers. Information is a key component of the community, but it is only a small piece of the puzzle.

2. Ergoweb: This web-based listserv/newsletter provides the opportunity for many ergonomics professionals and people with ergonomics concerns to work together to find answers. This is an integral part to having a community, but the interactive component is purely reactive to the day-to-day needs of the readers.

3. Conferences: You can attend NECE, AEC, EECE or maybe some local/regional events that focus directly on ergonomics. ASSE and NSC always have a sampling of ergonomics content. You may find a few presentations on ergonomics at state safety schools, VPP conferences or other safety-related events. Each of these events may provide the opportunity to learn about ergonomics, but a missing element in all of these conferences is the sense that these events have a focus or goal to help “ergonomics” move in a specific direction.

NECE has a competition to determine a new product that impresses the attendees, and AEC has the ErgoCup to reward a company for an outstanding project in ergonomics. Both of these contests create positive energy within their events, but their primary goal is more marketing than advancement of the science.

One shining exception to this discussion about conferences is the Patient Handling conference sponsored by the University of South Florida every year. The consistent leadership in this conference provides a goal to grow the knowledge in the area of patient handling to improve the lives of medical professionals. Here, you can see a community of practitioners and researchers working together towards a goal.

4. HFES: Speaking of researchers, I left out the annual conference of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society for a specific reason. HFES can be considered the equivalent society to IIE, ASSE, AIHA, SHRM, AAOHN, etc., for the ergonomics professional. The problem is that both the society and its annual conference are viewed as an academic society. The advancement of the science that is fostered within the society is obviously a necessity in order for new information to become available to practitioners, but the problem is that very few practitioners ever see the information generated by the members of the society.

5. NIOSH, Liberty Mutual:
These organizations are two of the entities that have influence in the field of ergonomics, and have leadership and focus to drive agendas to advance the science and provide guidance to companies. The question is whether a government agency or an insurance company can truly be the focal point for a community of professionals.

6. BCPE:
The Board of Certification in Ergonomics cannot create the community of ergonomics professionals. Its goal is to set the criteria for those that wish to work in this profession at the highest level, period. The fact is, though, the ergonomics community includes a lot of people that are either not certified or who cannot be certified in ergonomics.

Essentially, what you see is a fractured approach to pulling people together to learn and advance the field of ergonomics. Without a level of organization, leadership and focus, all we will do is continue to search for answers where we think we can find them. Personally, I think we can do better. Let me give you my view of ergonomics, which is an attempt to pull all the pieces of the “puzzle” together:

BCPE has created an Ergonomist Formation Model that defines the type of education and experience it takes to be a qualified practitioner in the field. Anyone who works or trains in ergonomics should use this model as a base of what we want to achieve. You don’t have to be certified, but we should all be moving in the right direction. You can view this model at http://www.bcpe.org.

HFES must continue to do what it does best: foster the advancement of the science of ergonomics. What it needs to do better is transfer this information to the entire ergonomics community. The mechanism to reach the rest of the community is to interact with the associations of those communities.

All the professional associations (IIE, ASSE, AIHA, AAOHN, APTA, COTA, etc.) whose members work in the field of ergonomics need to ensure their members know what they need to know (i.e. ergonomist formation model) to effectively practice. Further, these associations need to work with HFES and its members to achieve two simple goals:

Use the science that is being generated so that we are all using the most up-to-date information; and

  • Highlight gaps in either knowledge or practical implementation as it applies to the respective associations to help grow ergonomics as an applied science.
  • Conference organizers need to balance the core information of ergonomics (i.e. formation model) with the “buzz” topics of the year. Always make sure the basics are solid, and fill in the gaps as needed.
My view of the ergonomics community really is just a means of organizing the pieces that are already on the table. The challenge that faces us is still the overall integration of these pieces to help make sure we are moving in the right direction. As a member of ASSE, HFES and a certified ergonomist, I know this is a challenge that I look forward to working on. I don’t have the answer, but it is something that hopefully, we can work on together. If you agree or disagree with my opinions in this article, please feel free to let me know. The more we learn from each other, the better our chances of creating a true ergonomics community. Contributing Editor David Brodie, MS, CPE, ([email protected]) is director of ergonomics services for Atlas Ergonomics. Atlas Ergonomics, LLC is a leading ergonomic service and technology provider, helping customers reduce the spiraling costs of work related injuries within industrial, office, and commercial driver environments. Atlas Ergonomics provides turnkey support through a nationwide network of providers or can assist corporate resources with the necessary training and technology. Atlas Ergonomics is located in Grand Haven, Michigan, and additional information can be found athttp://www.atlasergo.com.

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