Them’s Fightin’ Words!
There’s a long standing debate with regard to what, how and who makes an ergonomist, and were ergonomics fits into corporate processes and structures. I’ve practiced ergonomics since the mid 1980’s, and have watched the debate rise and fall over time, but it never seems to go away. It looks like it may be on the rise again. Here’re excerpts from a couple of recent articles that caught my eye and interest.
From Engineering ergonomics, published in The Green Tie, the official blog of NAEM:
Most safety professionals believe that occupational ergonomics is a safety discipline because organizations have traditionally looked to them to address “ergonomic issues.” Many safety professionals, however, have limited or no formal education or experience in ergonomics, so they are uncomfortable managing something they don’t know. I pose to you a different paradigm — that occupational ergonomics is an engineering discipline.
From Managing Health: Certified or Certifiable – Is There a Difference? What’s the difference between the winners and the “also rans” when it comes to ergonomics?, written by James Malon, published on ehstoday.com:
... to some, ergonomics is considered a lengthy “four-letter word,” as their efforts yielded little sustainable effect on their companies’ injury/illness rates and costs. Is it their industry, their people or something else? …
Perhaps the problem rests with the fact that there are some who practice ergonomics who are not true experts in the field. So how can you ensure that you are getting advice or service from a qualified ergonomics professional? It’s very simple, check the letters (or lack of letters) after his or her name.
Ergonomics is a multi-disciplinary field, so I suppose there will always be some healthy debate, but I do believe that to ethically call someone an ergonomist, or an ergonomics expert (or a human factors expert, or a usability expert), that person must have training and experience in key areas that facilitate human centered design. The most complete up-to-date compilation of that knowledge and experience base that I’m aware of is captured in the Ergonomist Formation Model, which forms the basis for the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE) certification system.
OSHA Gets Aggressive
OSHA has been showing its teeth lately, and here are a couple topics that we’ve written about and discussed within the ergoweb community.
Medical Resident Working Hours
From a statement by OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels:
"We are very concerned about medical residents working extremely long hours, and we know of evidence linking sleep deprivation with an increased risk of needle sticks, puncture wounds, lacerations, medical errors and motor vehicle accidents. We will review and consider the petition on this subject submitted by Public Citizen and others.
"The relationship of long hours, worker fatigue and safety is a concern beyond medical residents, since there is extensive evidence linking fatigue with operator error. In its investigation of the root causes of the BP Texas City oil refinery explosion in 2005, in which 15 workers were killed and approximately 170 injured, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board identified worker fatigue and long work hours as a likely contributing factor to the explosion.
More About BP
We’ve written about BP’s problems many times in the past explaining how ergonomics could have and would have improved their systems, well before the Gulf Coast catastrophe, and since (e.g., Lessons from the BP Oil Spill). The problems they’re now experiencing were very predictable, and one has to wonder what kind of corporate management system could have ignored the very apparent problems. It would seem that their decision makers saved a few dollars up front by ignoring their system failures, but are now paying dearly for those decisions. $20 billion in direct cleanup relief, and now an OSHA fine of $50.6 million for the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion. The real costs to the company in terms of undocumented administrative costs and reputation damage must stretch the true costs far, far more into the billions of dollars. It sure seems like taking some simple and very cost effective preventative measures, including macro- and micro-ergonomics, would have been a much better idea.