Ergonomics done right.®
November 12th, 2008

Who is the Ergonomics Community?

David Brodie's comments in "Where is the Ergonomics Community" is spot on in calling the efforts to building this community a "fractured approach to pulling people together to learn and advance the field of ergonomics." Perhaps another question needs to be answered in order to lead to greater direction; Who is the Ergonomics Community?

In today's media, the term ergonomics has lost its meaning. It is used to sell keyboards, car seats, dog dishes, office chairs based on an inflated ball, and backpacks. In addition, a lot of people have assigned the term to their position description and offerings, without having the education, knowledge or understanding of the field. As a result of the marketplace being inundated by people offering "ergo" services and solutions (note that many do not even spell out the whole term), the value of ergonomics gets lost.

Unfortunately, not all "ergonomists" (qualified and self-proclaimed) work from the same definition of ergonomics. Some jump on the ergonomics band wagon and use the term to sell martial arts, body mechanics, stretching & exercise (wellness), and a wide array of gizmos (have you seen the treadmill office workstation). These are examples of the distractions and malpractice activities that give the wrong image and value to the field. Mr. Brodie referenced BCPE which is the recognized certification board for ergonomics/human factors professionals. Accept no substitutes.

Most professional ergonomists focus their efforts on the more specific field of "occupational ergonomics". NIOSH describes occupational  ergonomics as "designing the workplace and job demands to fit the capabilities of the working population." It is all about changing the workplace to fit people (engineering and workplace management) not having people change to fit the workplace (stretching, exercise, body mechanics). The former is the approach used by professional ergonomists. The latter is typically applied by therapists, exercise coaches, martial arts instructors, behaviorists, and the self-proclaimed "ergonomists".

The six sources listed in David Brodie's post offer some control and consistency of core science, methods, materials and content. However, until the public gets a clear understanding of what is ergonomics, and who is the ergonomics community, we will continue to clarify and defend ergonomics/human factors from the misuse of the science, term and practice.

Lewis Carroll once said, "if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." In this case, if we don't know who the ergonomics community is, what are the odds that we will know where they are?