You may have noticed an increase in the number of ergonomics certifications and ergonomics courses available today. I want to let you in on a secret that the industry is not sharing: some certifications are as worthless as the 5 hours class it takes to get them.
Unfortunately, anyone can create an ‘ergonomics certification’ and market a weekend course to people who ask how do you become certified in ergonomics.
We’ll look at a few options for ergonomics certifications below, but first, a brief history of ergonomics in the workplace.
A Brief History of Ergonomics Certifications
Various certifications in ergonomics dates back to the mid-1980s. However, multiple professional organizations centered on ergonomics and human factors were established dating back to the 1940s.
The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF – formerly The Ergonomics Research Society) – The first professional body of ergonomics in the world. Founded in England in 1949. Ref, Ref.
European Productivity Agency (EPA) – Founded in 1953
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society – Founded in 1957
International Ergonomics Association (IEA) – Established in 1961 (a spin off of the EPA)
Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE) – Established in 1991 in the United States
These organizations have evolved over time, some creating certifications and others remaining more of a membership model. For example, in the United States, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has 67 active chapters but also has a presence in Europe, China, and the Middle East.
Do I Need Ergonomics Certification to work as an Ergonomist?
The definitive answer is no. The highest designation of ergonomics (CPE) is granted after you’ve worked in the field of human factors and ergonomics for 3 years. You simply complete the application showing your work experience and bachelor’s degree (in any field, though you need to meet the ‘core competencies’ as listed on their website).
Again, the ‘certification’ happens after you have worked in the field: 3 years of work experience in human factors and ergonomics. Then you pay a fee and take a 125 question exam that takes 3 hours.
So is it necessary? Absolutely not. Sure, there are still many ergonomists working towards the certification, but the work and independent study they are doing on their own will qualify them to be eligible for the designation of CPE.
Which Ergonomics Certification is Best?
If you explore the well established ergonomics membership groups listed, you’ll notice they don’t have a common ergonomics certification. While the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics offers multiple certifications and designations in ergonomics, having one of these certifications is not a prerequisite to being an ergonomist as explained above. Even more, any type of certificate in ergonomics is not required in order for someone to perform work in the field of human factors and ergonomics.
The BCPE, however, is highly respected as an independent board of ergonomics practitioners who establish certain requirements for receiving the designation: CPE or Certified Professional Ergonomist. This is the best ergonomics certificate available, but it is not a requirement for being an ergonomics professional. As described above, the certificate is really for those who have real work experience as an ergonomist.
Weekend Ergonomics Certification
You may have seen some very professional sounding ergonomic certification courses that promote a completion certificate. In many of these 2 day weekend courses, the participants complete the ‘training’ and receive a certification in “ergonomics assessment.”
The bottom line: anyone can get a weekend ergonomics certification. Anyone.
Just because someone has 3 to 4 letters behind their name and claims they are a certified ergonomics assessor, doesn’t mean they understand human factors and ergonomics.
Many of these courses can be completed online and range from $400 to $1,200.
Like any continuing education course or program, these courses are a great introduction to the study of ergonomics. Unfortunately, these weekend courses make you no more of an ergonomics professional than a weekend Home Depot course on bathroom repairs makes you a plumber.
Yet, it’s all too common to see these types of designations floating behind names when all it really means is that they’ve completed two days worth of online videos or classroom lectures.
Private Ergonomics Classes
Here are a few common privately owned businesses offering certificates in ergonomics:
The Back School of Atlanta – Offers a 2 day course or online certification in ergonomics (CEAS) ($500×3)
Roy Matheson – Offers a 3 day course or online certification in ergonomics CEES ($1200)
These privately owned businesses provide courses on basic ergonomics assessments and target non-health providers and anyone interested in pursuing ergonomics. Further, the certificates provided does not make you a certified ergonomist or an expert on the human movement system.
Physical Therapists as Ergonomics Professionals
Physical Therapists, however, are experts on the human movement system. As a Physical Therapist, you are required to have a bachelor’s degree and certain science prerequisites before you are even accepted into a 3 year doctoral program that is heavily focused on anatomy, musculoskeletal assessment and treatment, as well as structured clinical training.
As a Physical Therapist, the 3 year doctoral training and field work makes for the best combination possible for an ergonomics professional. Not only are Physical Therapists trained in identifying movement pattern faults, they understand the relationship between muscles, joints, and forces on the human body that cause physical stress.
A Physical Therapist who performs movement screens and musculoskeletal assessments is one of the best providers of workplace ergonomics assessments.
A very prominent Physical Therapist with a specialty in Ergonomics is Dr. Lauren Hebert. He has spent the last 30 years providing ergonomics consulting and workplace wellness seminars to decrease musculoskeletal injuries. His work in the field of ergonomics is based on anatomy, kinesiology, and physics. He understands how the human body works and how stresses impact joints, muscles, and ligaments. Through effective seminars and workshops, he instructs employees how to become expert on the way their bodies move. This has been one of the most effective ways to reduce workplace injuries in his area – he has seen over 70% decrease in musculoskeletal injury claims in hundreds of companies over the past 30 years.
As a Physical Therapist myself, I have learned from Dr. Hebert and have implemented the same strategies to teach and empower workers to become experts on their backs, necks, and shoulders.
This is the type of training that most employers are needing when they think about ergonomics consultants.
If you are interested in becoming an ergonomist, study the field of ergonomics and human factors, get familiar with the research, and use the knowledge you have as a Physical Therapist to make an impact on the health of people in the workplace.