Ergonomist

Salary and conditions

  • Range of typical starting salaries for new ergonomics graduates: £20,000 – £25,000.
  • Range of salaries with around five years’ experience: £25,000 – £40,000.
  • Senior ergonomists can earn up to £60,000.
  • Salaries vary significantly between large industrial companies and universities. Earnings in consultancies are equally variable. Those with an ergonomics degree in addition to relevant experience from a previous profession can earn higher salaries than those stated above.
  • Ergonomists generally work office hours, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but overtime and weekend or shift work may be required depending on the employer and the project.
  • Working environments can differ enormously. However, the work often involves a combination of office or laboratory-based activities and field work/externally based tasks.
  • Self-employment/freelance work is possible for those with experience in a specific area.
  • There are many opportunities in the field to undertake individual research. This usually involves liaising with other freelance ergonomists.
  • Because of ongoing developments in technology and design, ergonomists must be prepared to continue learning throughout their careers.
  • Jobs are available in most areas but mobility may be necessary to secure promotion.
  • The work can be stressful because of the demands of the clients and professionals in other fields.
  • The work often involves interacting with a range of people within a team of professionals and/or working with clients or with individuals in the process of assessing workplace issues.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home at night can be frequent but varies according to the focus of the role. Overseas work or travel is occasional.

Job description

Ergonomists are concerned with the safety and efficiency of equipment, systems and transportation. They use scientific information to ensure the health, comfort and protection of the people using them and due to the nature of the work can find themselves in a wide range of environments. According to the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors , ‘Ergonomics is the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of objects, systems and environment for human use.’

By scientifically studying the relationship between people, environments and equipment, ergonomists can use their findings to improve human interaction with processes and systems. Areas of work include product/equipment design, production systems, information and advanced technology and transport design.

They may work in consultancy, research, development or teaching and may also be called human factors specialists

Typical work activities

An ergonomist’s work activities vary widely but are always based on ensuring that a system or product meets the needs of the user and will usually include:

  • investigating the physical capabilities and limitations of the human body;
  • analysing how people use equipment and machinery;
  • undertaking workplace risk assessments;
  • assessing work environments and their effect on users;
  • utilising assessment results to identify areas for improvement;
  • designing practical solutions to implement these improvements;
  • producing user manuals to ensure the best use of new systems or products;
  • producing reports of findings and recommendations;
  • writing proposals and compiling statistical data;
  • using detailed knowledge of the human body to improve the design of products, such as cars and leisure facilities;
  • interviewing individuals and observing them in a particular type of environment, as part of the research process;
  • liaising with staff at all levels of an organisation to undertake research;
  • visiting a wide range of environments, such as offices, factories, hospitals and oil rigs, in order to assess health and safety standards or to investigate workplace accidents;
  • providing advice, information and training to colleagues and clients;
  • acting as an expert witness in cases of industrial injury;
  • developing a clear understanding of how specific industries and their systems work in a short space of time;
  • managing sections of projects;
  • presenting to clients, conferences and professional societies;
  • identifying opportunities for new work.

Entry requirements

There are two common routes to qualifying as a professional ergonomist:

  • a BSc in Ergonomics recognised by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors;
  • a relevant postgraduate qualification (MSc or PhD by course or research).

For entry via the postgraduate route, a degree in a relevant subject is required. Examples include:

  • engineering;
  • computer science/software engineering;
  • mathematics/physics;
  • operational research;
  • physiotherapy/occupational therapy;
  • medicine;
  • design;
  • sports science;
  • psychology;
  • biology.

Some distance learning courses, leading to a relevant postgraduate certificate, diploma or MSc are also available. Visit the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors  website for more information.

A high standard of academic qualifications is usually sought by employers.

Some courses include a year of practical experience. The choice of course and the type of pre-course qualification you have may affect the type of areas in which you can specialise as a professional ergonomist. The Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors’ website has details of recognised and qualifying courses. As there are more places on postgraduate courses, more graduates will enter the profession with a Masters.

Entry is not possible with an HND only.

Applicants with a relevant postgraduate qualification will have an advantage, particularly if this is combined with related work experience, specifically in industry.

Whilst pre-entry experience is not required, work in a relevant environment can be useful. Employers usually favour candidates with some level of industrial experience.

Potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a good level of numeracy;
  • the ability to understand technical concepts;
  • an interest in people’s behaviour in different situations;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • a systematic approach to studying people in their work environment and producing research;
  • the ability to work well with people at all levels;
  • good communication and negotiation skills.

Membership of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors is open to anyone but those who are qualified and experienced gain entry to the professional register, which is sent out to employers and profiled on the institute’s website. Membership can also be a useful way of forging professional contacts. The institute also runs a work experience scheme, ‘Opening Doors’, which operates an online placement service, available to student members. Use projects on degree courses to develop areas of specialty and to create opportunities for holiday work. Sandwich options on degree courses are also very useful. A valuable way to gain greater insight into the profession is to talk to working ergonomists. Contact the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors for more information about speaking to professionals in the field.

The hardest job to get is the first one, meaning that initially competition is high but there is a great demand for ergonomists with over three years’ experience. This field welcomes mature candidates and is open to those starting new careers. A high proportion of ergonomists enter the profession in their 30s and 40s and come from a range of backgrounds, including physiotherapy, psychology and engineering.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.

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