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 A consulting ergonomist identifies potential hazards, such as poor lighting, dirty equipment, and outdated technologies.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.