Who Are the 'True Ergonomists'?

By LaBar, Gregg | Occupational Hazards, August 1994 | Go to article overview

Who Are the 'True Ergonomists'?


LaBar, Gregg, Occupational Hazards


WHAT DO A CPA, AN INTERIOR DESIGNER FROM TEXAS, AND A BALLET DANCER FROM PHOENIX HAVE IN COMMON?

They are among the thousands of people offering themselves as experts in workplace ergonomics, according to Lynda Enos, director of occupational health services for HumanFit, a Wichita Falls, Tex., ergonomic consulting firm. They join a list of people developing and implementing workplace ergonomics programs whose backgrounds and functions also include human factors, occupational safety and health, industrial hygiene, engineering, risk management, computer services, facilities design and management, health care, chiropractics, psychology, and human resources.

Enos, a certified occupational health nurse who has been working with companies on ergonomics for 10 years, said, "Everybody wants a part of this field. I'm glad to see there's so much interest, but there are a lot of people dealing in snake oil."

Indeed, many more people are involved in ergonomics beyond those who have formal human factors and ergonomic engineering training. In some cases, they have learned by experience about the art and science of fitting jobs to workers.

But, according to Dieter W. Jahns, leader of an ergonomics certification effort, there are others who have no business being in this field but for their ability to identify a growth market or because they ended up with the responsibility for managing an ergonomics program by default. Jahns wants to separate the "true ergonomists" from the pretenders and the people who operate at only a familiarity level.

CERTIFICATION'S CASE

In 1990, with the support of the Human Factors Society (now Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)), Jahns founded the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE). According to Jahns, who has his own consulting firm, Synertech Associates, Bellingham, Wash., the human factors/ergonomics certification program is designed to help define the field and raise the level of professional practice. It will "put some quacks out of business and force everybody to shape up," Jahns claims.

In 1992, BCPE began awarding certificates for certified professional ergonomist (CPE) and certified human factors professional (CHFP). During Phase I of the certification programs, applicants are required to have a master's degree in a related field like ergonomics or human factors, seven years experience as a full-time professional ergonomist or human factors specialist, and furnish three work products such as comprehensive job analyses or workplace modification reports.

At press time, under the Phase I criteria, the BCPE had issued 345 certificates, including to the 10 members of BCPE's board of directors and 18 application evaluators. Another 177 applications were being reviewed, and an additional 151 were still awaiting initial evaluation.

Twenty-eight people were denied certificates in Phase I but could still become certified under new Phase II criteria, which took effect Jan. 1. These criteria require a master's degree or similar educational background, four years of full-time professional experience, one work product furnished, and passage of a one-day written examination. The first exam, which Jahns expects will have a 77% to 85% passing rate, will be given Oct. 29, at the conclusion of the HFES annual meeting in Nashville. BCPE charges $200 for the application processing and testing; the annual renewal fee for certification is $75.

People who do not have ergonomics/human factors master's degrees, are not capable of conducting in-depth anthropometric and biomechanical analyses, or do not work full time on ergonomics (i.e. many safety and health professionals) are, in Jahns' words, "tangentially related" to the field and probably will not qualify for certification. Full-time researchers and academicians, who do not consult to industry or the military, also do not qualify.

"The criteria are quite stiff," Jahns said. …

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