PROFESSIONAL NETWORK: Ergonomics or the science of work By Bobbie Maree and Mandy Eagar
Ergonomics is the science of work.
The word is derived from the greek words ergon (work) and nomos (laws) and the official International Ergonomics Association (IEA) defines ergonomics as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” 1)
According the the IEA ergonomists contribute to the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people.” 1)
To find out more, In Touch spoke to Dale Kennedy, an ergonomist practising in Cape Town
In Touch (IT): Why is it important for people to be aware of ergonomics?
Dale Kennedy (DK): Ergonomics is an integral part of everyone’s lives. Every piece of “technology” from a knife and fork to a car is ergonomically designed, i.e. it is designed for human usage. If one uses the technology consistently, in the incorrect manner, an injury will result. Thus, if you are cutting with a knife as part of your job and the handle is too small for your hand you can, over time, land up with severe hand injuries. Therefore it is in everyone’s interest to understand ergonomics and attempt to implement the principles in their daily lives as well as working environment.
IT: What qualifications are needed to become an ergonomist?
DK: Minimum qualification is an M.Sc. (Ergonomics) plus five years work experience before one is eligible to register as an ergonomist.
IT: Where can you train?
DK: The only post-graduate degree in is offered at Rhodes University , Grahamstown.
IT: What does the undergraduate as well as post graduate training entail?
DK: The undergraduate degree entails a three year degree at Rhodes University , Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics. Post graduate training would be an honours degree and then onto a masters degree.
IT: Do you have continued professional development?
DK: No not really.
IT: Is there a professional body that looks out for the interests of your profession?
DK: Yes, the Ergonomics Society of .
IT: Do ergonomists need to be registered in order to practice, if so, with whom?
DK: Allegedly they are supposed to be registered with Ergonomics Society of South Africa – but they are still in discussions about registration. The following information is currently listed on www.ergonomicssa.com: “ESSA is currently working on the Certification of Ergonomists in . The ESSA Certification Board (ESSACB) recently met in Gauteng to finalise the application process. The Ergonomics Society of South Africa Certification Board (ESSACB) sets the minimum learning standards and qualifications for the recognition of competency in Ergonomics. Individuals who meet the predetermined criteria may apply to be certified by the Board. The ESSACB also assists in the regulation of the professional and ethical standards pertaining to those practicing Ergonomics in Southern Africa . Two levels of certification are available, namely Registered Ergonomist (Level 1) and Ergonomics Facilitator (Level 2). “
IT: How many ‘real’ ergonomists are there in the country?
DK: Well, considering the high qualifications, not many. There are probably about 10 people who could call themselves an ergonomists in the country.
IT: What does your job entail?
DK: Lots of hard work in factories, long periods away from work and many hours of computer report writing. An ergonomist will go into a factory and collect data of various human parameters such as muscle strength ability, physiological ability and biomechanical assessments. They also assess and quantify ergonomics risks, such as stooping, reaching lifting etc. The job varies per factory and the outcomes of the assessment.
IT: Are companies in this country sufficiently aware of ergonomics?
DK: Yes many are. Our clients range from car manufactures, to insurance companies to small one person businesses.
IT: Do you see people on a one to one basis, private clients?
DK: Yes normally to assess their individual office workstations. In these sessions we match their anthropometry and physiological composition to their working environments.
IT: Can a massage therapist refer patients to an ergonomist?
IT: How do ergonomists define posture and especially good posture?
DK: Posture is totally dependent on the work that needs to be completed. For example there are no good lifting techniques that are applicable to everyone, as the loads that people lift differ. Lifting a barrel half full of water is completely different to lifting a human body off the floor. One could lift three bricks or a bag of cement, in each case we attempt to establish the most suitable biomechanical advantage for the lift and change the workstation design to allow the equipment or tools to lift loads and not the operator. In an office environment the most suitable seated posture will depend on the person’s back condition, hamstring flexibility and leg length to name some of the variables.
IT: Describe your average work day.
DK: Two hours of emails, then most days are spent report writing, if not out in the field researching and collecting data.
IT: What is the best part of your job?
DK: Being the owner of the company and having the freedom to do what I choose.
IT: And the worst part?
DK: Data collecting in dirty factories or working in the mines.
IT: Why did you choose this career?
DK: It was new and cutting edge and appealed to me.
1) International Ergonomics Association www.iea.cc/
2) Ergonomics Society of , www.ergonomicssa.com