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What does an Ergonomist do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An ergonomist is an occupational health expert who specializes in designing comfortable and efficient tools, equipment, and furniture for offices and factories. A professional considers human anatomy and the safety of workers to craft items that minimize physical strain. Most ergonomists work for research and development divisions of manufacturing plants or private consultation firms, though some qualified, business-savvy professionals offer their services on a freelance, contract basis.

Companies that manufacture office equipment and furniture staff ergonomists to research and develop products that maximize comfort and safety. An ergonomist usually works alongside a team of engineers to design computers, office supplies, desks, chairs, machines, and industrial equipment. He or she might conduct research to find out the most common health complaints when using a certain type of equipment, and create products that minimize the risk of injury. For example, an ergonomist might design an office chair with better arm and back support to improve posture and remove strain from the lower back and shoulders.

Many business owners consult ergonomists to tour their buildings and offer advice on how to improve productivity and safety. A consulting ergonomist identifies potential hazards, such as poor lighting, dirty equipment, and outdated technologies. He or she might suggest installing extra light fixtures to ease eye strain, buying desks and chairs that are more comfortable, or revamping dangerous equipment. A professional also looks for ways to improve efficiency on assembly lines by redesigning tools and scheduling regular breaks for employees.

Ergonomists who have established themselves in the consulting or manufacturing business often choose to open their own firms, where they hire employees, advertise their services, and maintain business records. Freelance ergonomists often specialize in providing occupational health and safety training to employees. They may suggest that business owners invest in new products and provide resources for obtaining them, such as the names of manufacturers or mail-order catalogs.

An individual who wants to become an ergonomist must usually obtain at least a bachelor's degree in occupational health, though many people choose to pursue master's degrees in ergonomics or industrial hygiene. Most new workers learn specific job skills by observing and assisting experienced professionals. Ergonomists are not typically required to be licensed or certified, although pursuing voluntary certification can be helpful in finding jobs and building a strong reputation with clients. In the United States, individuals can take written certifying exams administered by Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE). Most other countries have organizations similar to the BCPE that provide credentials to new ergonomists.

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Discussion Comments

By stl156 — On Sep 11, 2011

It is amazing how much a well designed product can improve your comfort and productivity. The company where I work just bought us new computer work stations that came with more comfortable chairs, and the whole set-up just makes it easier to get work done. It got me very interested in the people that design these products.

How would you go about getting an ergonomist job? Are there any types of ergonomist training programs you can take that would teach you the stills without having to have a degree?

If you were to start your own freelance business, how do you get companies to hire your services? Are there special ergonomist professional groups that you can join and network with other people in the field?

By matthewc23 — On Sep 10, 2011

I always thought it would be fun to be an ergonomist. I watched a show a couple years ago about how they come up with the different designs for various products.

I think a lot of it is just done through trial and error. An ergonomist might survey a few people who used a product, like a knife, and ask them what they liked and didn't like and what parts of their hand got sore, etc. Then they go back to the lab and make mock designs out of syrofoam and rubber and whatever else they can find until they come up with a good idea.

After that, it is up to the engineers to actually create the final product. I think a lot of companies also have a final round of testing with the new product to see if people like it more.

By jmc88 — On Sep 09, 2011

What all goes into making an ergonomically designed product? Of course the article mentions that an ergonomist might do some research, but what does this entail, and how is it applied to a final product?

I think the biggest challenge in all of this would be making something that is not only comfortable, but also attractive. Most people would not want to buy something that is bulky and ugly no matter how comfortable it was.

I think there would be a lot of difference in ergonomists from various countries, too. At least from the products I have seen, it seems like Japanese designs are much simpler, and straightforward, while North American design has more bells and whistles. Then you can combine that with European design that is often simple, but attractive.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 08, 2011

Until I read this I never thought about what all might go into a company trying to improve the productivity of their employees. I always just assumed that engineers came up with the different designs on their own.

I have never heard of a degree in occupational health. I checked, and it is not offered where I went to school. Is there a chance it is known by a different name at some places, or that there might be other ways to become an ergonomist? What kind of classes would you even take?

Once you get the degree you need, what does into getting ergonomist certification? Are there certain tests you have to take that challenge you to create various product designs?

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