Recently, we wished one of our own well as he ventured off into retirement. Walt Rostykus (CSP, CIH, CPE) spent over 35 years working in the EHS field. His contributions to industrial health and safety and, in particular, to ergonomics, have been immense. Walt’s help to global companies in launching ergonomics processes has positively impacted nearly 5 million workers worldwide.
Before he departed, I was fortunate enough to talk with Walt about his long and storied career. There were four themes that really stood out to me in my conversation with this true trailblazer in ergonomics. They include:
Ergonomics is an art. Although ergonomics is defined as the technical study of work and human capabilities, Walt emphasized the social side of it. He said, it’s about the art of applying sciences to the workplace, in a way that actually sticks. This concept emphasizes the importance of anticipating how to create something (an ergonomics improvement process or a safety system) that is not only effective, but also sustainable.
Soft skills are critical for success. If ergonomics is your art, then interacting, listening, planning, negotiating, and applying the sciences are your brushes. Walt envisions these soft skills as “vehicles for applying ergonomics in the workplace.” He also said that to be a good ergonomist, you must pair compassion with people with each of these skills so that you can understand their resistance and difficulties along the way.
Most common mistakes can be avoided. Walt’s experience has shown him that many missteps in the rollout of an organization’s ergonomics process are the result of a lack of information. He said that companies must understand global best practices before engaging in change and be armed with quantitative proof that an approach works before adopting it. When conducting research, always keep the end goal of occupational ergonomics in mind: to reduce employee exposure to the risk factors which cause musculoskeletal disorders.
Ergonomics isn’t going away. There have been many advances in the practice of ergonomics throughout the past few decades. Some notable ones include easy to use valid assessment tools, increasing visibility to corporate leaders, availability of good engineering design criteria, and the use of comprehensive management systems. Walt believes that this momentum will keep rolling; he cited recent developments such as motion capture technology and engagement from the engineering community as evidence.
Leading by example, Walt has shown countless organizations and individuals how to gain knowledge, share understanding, empower people, and ultimately improve lives. We are so grateful for his example of compassionate, persistent work to influence change for the greater good. Please join us in wishing Walt a happy and healthy retirement!