Ergonomists investigate environmental factors that could influence an employee’s productivity and/or behaviour, for example: room temperature, lighting, seating offering proper support for the spine, etc. After investigating and analysing relevant data, ergonomists make suggestions to company executives. They will also recommend adaptations or changes that will affect employee performance or behaviour.
Ergonomists can specialise in optimising the efficiency and productivity of employees in various occupations. They concentrate on the type of work being done, the time required to complete various aspects of the work, the possible problems encountered when dealing with various work areas and the necessity of the work within the broader company set up.
To some extent their work is similar to that of Organisational and Works Study Officers.
Ergonomics is about ensuring a good “fit” between people and the things they use. It is a multi-disciplinary field that encompasses:
- life / biological sciences such as biomechanics, kinesiology and medicine
- behavioural / social sciences such as psychology, sociology and anthropology
- technical sciences such as systems design, mathematical modelling and operations research.
Ergonomists ensure that designs of products, tasks and work methods are compatible with human characteristics and maximise safety, efficiency and well-being. They assess physical environments by using measuring instruments, subjective assessments, performance and response measurements, modelling and simulations.
They analyse, change, build, design and modify workstations and work tasks, enabling workers to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently in a safe working environment. They design equipment and machines and make them easy to use.
Ergonomists also analyse the demands placed on workers by assessing physical, postural, physiological, mental, stress, job and work attitude parameters. They assess the suitability of products and systems in relation to the motor, sensorial and mental capabilities of operators and users.
They may design and implement systems by conducting audits and employing creative techniques such as focus groups, participatory design and follow-up groups and teach workers about body mechanics and work practices.
Ergonomists also consult with other specialists concerning design and development problems to gather and integrate data from a variety of scientific and professional points of view, and advise organisations on the human factors to be considered in the specification, design, evaluation, operation and maintenance of products and systems.
Ergonomists work mostly indoors, in offices, factories, hospitals, government departments and sometimes outdoors on farms.
They work with a wide variety of people: workers, union officials, management, other professionals, students and the public. They may work in laboratories, industry settings, offices or teaching environments. Overtime, evening and weekend work may be required to meet project deadlines or to assess systems involving shift workers.
Ergonomists should enjoy coordinating information, developing innovative approaches to problems, consulting with people, taking responsibility for projects, and taking a methodical approach to conducting research.
- larger companies and institutions
- large corporations such as utility or telecommunications companies
- government departments concerned with workers compensation, occupational health and safety, transportation and defence
- research councils and institutes
- educational institutions
- computer and office furniture manufacturers
- manufacturing companies
- private consulting firms
- self-employment, contracting services to a variety of organisations
- read up as much as possible about human anatomy, human movement and work, psychology, etc.
- join your school’s debating team to develop confidence in front of people
- contact a major company and find out if you could consult and watch an ergonomist at work
Asanska College of Design and Technology, University of Pretoria