Today many companies are realizing the benefits obtained through the services of an ergonomist and the implementation of an ergonomics standard in the workplace. Increased productivity, smaller workers’ compensation claims, and decline in the number of lost workdays are just a few of these benefits.
However, there are many considerations to make when selecting the services of an ergonomics consultant. How do you choose an ergonomist? Who is qualified? What do all those acronyms following their names mean? Where should you look?”
Reviewing and answering the following seven questions should give you a better understanding of what to consider when searching for an ergonomics consultant.
1) What are the certifications of the ergonomist: CPE, CPEE, CSP, COHN, CIH, other?
Not having CPE or CPEE does not necessarily imply a lack of expertise, however. The Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) titles may provide some excellent ergonomics consulting. The CSP once had an ergonomics specialty exam.
Keep in mind that having certifications does not guarantee someone is a seasoned professional. This is just step one in your search.
2) What is the ergonomistâ€™s education and experience?
Having a medical background typically gives the individual direct experience in treating patients who have experienced cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) injuries. Someone with a physical therapy degree who went on to achieve the CPE has an excellent education, for example, for understanding the musculoskeletal aspects of ergonomic disorders and their effects on people. On the other hand, many ergonomists may possess the necessary credentials but have little experience in addressing the treatment of a CTD injury.
Ergonomists with an engineering and industrial psychology background usually begin the thought process by reviewing productivity of the worksite. How can the task’s efficiency or productivity be improved? These individuals gradually move toward safety issues. At the other end of the spectrum are CSPs, who often begin by looking at safety and then move toward efficiency and productivity. Then there are CIHs and COHNs, who start from the health perspective. If your company is re-engineering its existing conveyor belt operations, for example, the background and experience of an engineer with a CPEE may be most helpful.
The point is that any of these approaches can be successful. The combination of an educational background with an ergonomics certification will begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
3) What do you know about the firmâ€™s background or specialty?Many companies sell themselves as experts in ergonomics. Unfortunately, when you dig deeper you often find the firm really specializes in issues such as indoor air quality, confined space or safety programs.
In an ideal setting, you would seek to match your ergonomic needs with a firm whose specialty is in that area. Are you trying to move or rebuild an assembly line? Then an industrial engineering background would be most beneficial. Perhaps you have additional safety concerns other than just ergonomics, such as confined space issues? A CSP may be best. Alternatively, if there are industrial air quality issues a CIH may be the best choice.
4) What is the ergonomistâ€™s project experience?
5) Have you checked references?References, I must admit, are somewhat overlooked by today’s hustle-bustle, need-things-done-yesterday mentality. Still, take the time to call two or three former clients to ask about the work that was performed. Did it meet their expectations? Was the project completed on time, with minimal disturbance in the workplace? How did the individual relate to the various levels of management within the company? If the information you receive is unfavorable, clarify the reason. Was it poor communication, resulting in unmet expectations?
6) Are you being realistic in your expectations?
Ask yourself: What are you trying to accomplish? Why do you want the services of a professional ergonomist? How will you measure the success or failure of the program? Is senior management committed to this endeavor? Will they be working directly with the consultant? Are labor unions involved, and have they endorsed this project? What types of onsite training and carry-over will be initiated?
In short, what is the vision of your company with respect to ergonomics?
7) What else must you consider?
- What is the size of the consulting firm? A smaller firm may have less red tape when it comes to price negotiations for services, and a firm with a local presence will generally respond faster to your needs. Beware of a junior ergonomist doing the job; clarify exactly who will be performing the actual work.
- Consider the consultant’s promptness in answering your questions or returning your initial phone call.
- What follow-up services and ongoing support do they provide?