Managing Health: Certified or Certifiable – Is There a Difference?

Aug. 1, 2010
What’s the difference between the winners and the “also rans” when it comes to ergonomics?

Companies large and small have benefited from implementing an ergonomics improvement process or embedding ergonomic design guidelines into their new equipment requirements. Yet to some, ergonomics is considered a lengthy “four-letter word,” as their efforts yielded little sustainable effect on their companies' injury/illness rates and costs. Is it their industry, their people or something else?

In my experience, industry and work force make no difference. Certainly, it is easier to make a positive impact in some operations than others, but at the end of the day, people are people, work is work and designing to optimize the interaction — the fit — between them is a well-proven science.

Perhaps the problem rests with the fact that there are some who practice ergonomics who are not true experts in the field. So how can you ensure that you are getting advice or service from a qualified ergonomics professional? It's very simple, check the letters (or lack of letters) after his or her name.

In the United States, the recognized gold standard for certification in ergonomics is the CPE (certified professional ergonomist) or CHFP (certified human factors professional) designation awarded by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics. There are 1,027 CPE and CHFP professionals. In Europe, there is the EurErg designation. Conferred by the Centre for Registration of European Ergonomists, there are 385 EurErg professionals. In Canada, there is the CCPE (Canadian certified professional ergonomist) designation, granted by the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists. There are 162 CCPE professionals.


Although each certifying body is a separate organization, they are consistent in that they all include an evaluation of the individual's education, experience and applied knowledge. In the United States, this means that each CPE has the following:

  1. A master's degree in ergonomics or human factors, or an equivalent educational background in the life sciences, engineering sciences and behavioral sciences to comprise a professional level of ergonomic education.

  2. Three years of full-time professional practice in ergonomics or human factors.

  3. A passing score on the CPE written examination (an 8-hour, comprehensive test).

The educational background requirements alone present a pretty high hurdle, as there are five topic areas that a candidate must have covered during their schooling, including ergonomics principles (20 hours), human characteristics (80 hours), work analysis and measurement (100 hours), people and technology (100 hours), demonstration projects (6 weeks) and professional issues (20 hours).

Gaining the requisite 3 years of experience may not seem that difficult, but you do have to submit work product that is evaluated, and have your work experience validated by your employer.

The CPE written examination is a tough, all-encompassing test. When I'm asked by candidates about the best method to prepare, I honestly can say that it is one of those tests that you either know the information or you do not. Studying will help, but you really should brush up on what you learned during your undergraduate and graduate degree. I can offer only one guarantee; you will feel completely drained at the end of the 8 hours.

So why do it? To me, it's simple; my fellow CPEs and I are professionals. Our designation tells the outside world that we have met the “gold” standard for knowledge, experience and professional practice.

CPEs are bound by a code of ethics, which states that certificate holders shall, in their professional ergonomics activities, sustain and advance the integrity, honor and prestige of the ergonomics profession by adherence to nine principles. While they all are of equal importance, the first two succinctly capture the responsibility a CPE carries with them as they practice their profession:

Principle 1. BCPE certificate holders shall practice their profession following recognized scientific principles and practices. The lives, health and well-being of people depend upon their professional judgment. They are obligated to protect the health and well-being of the public.

Principle 2. BCPE certificate holders shall be honest, fair and impartial. They shall act with responsibility and integrity in all professional actions. They shall adhere to high standards of ethical conduct with balanced care for the interests of the public, employers, clients, employees, colleagues and the ergonomics profession. They shall avoid all conduct or practice which is likely to discredit the profession or deceive the public.

BCPE was wise to align the certification process and criteria with other well-established certification systems in other professional disciplines in order to provide a meaningful guarantee of science and professionalism to clients, the public and to certificate holders.

So when looking to improve the ergonomic design of one job or to set up an entire ergonomics improvement process, the question you really need ask yourself is, “How professional do I want my advice to be?”

James Mallon, CPE, is a vice president with Humantech. Humantech believes people make productivity happen. For additional information, visit or call 734-663-6707. Mallon can be contacted directed at [email protected]

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