Is Ergonomics Consulting Becoming a “Commodity”?

Posted by Alison Heller-Ono on May 16, 2015

Is Ergonomics Consulting Becoming a “Commodity”?

Commodities are the raw ingredients or components of almost everything we consume or use in our everyday life. Some of the most common commodities are corn, wheat, gold, silver, copper, oil, gas, cattle, sugar, coffee and cotton. They are uniform in quality between companies that produce and sell them. Typically, you can’t tell the difference between one firm’s product and another. When considering ergonomics in this context, as a commodity, it removes the specialty expertise it takes to perform it and makes it more common place, able to be done by everyone in the same way.

Last month I wrote about “The Alphabet Soup of Ergonomics Certification”. I discussed how people who are interested in ergonomics can be credentialed by primarily either one of two national certification boards or at least 3 private certification businesses. Well, it turns out there are even more options to choose from according to Dr. Alan Hedge at Cornell University. He provided a follow up to my April WIN NEWS Blog regarding university-based certifications and a few others I was not aware of. I’m providing them for your review below. Many of these programs have evolved in the last three to five years or so. Most of the university programs require a bachelor’s degree at minimum in addition to the required course work which is quite varied from one class to six classes. However, some of the certifications require as little as 1 hour of training for the certification and cost as little as $24.95 to earn.

Program - Type - Certification

What is diversity in certification and credentialing doing to our profession where many of us have invested years of studying the science of ergonomics and human factors combined with years of work experience? Many are PhDs, others have Masters in Human Factors and Ergonomics, and some have healthcare degrees in Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy in combination with national credentials of CPE or CIE. Yet, the above certifications can be earned in as little as one hour, one day, six months or one year. Do all these programs carry with them the title, “Ergonomist” or is the title “Ergonomics Specialist” more appropriate?

Here is an example of the impact this approach to commoditizing ergonomics is having on business and industry.

In a recent bid for a government contract seeking ergonomics services for a major US City, the agency awarded the contract to a storefront business that sells ergonomic chairs and furniture, ergonomic product and comfort tools. As their ergonomics program service provider, this firm will conduct chair fittings, preventive ergonomic evaluations and workers’ compensation ergonomic evaluations (medical/legal evaluations). Yet, their credentials, when compared to others bidding on the same job were minimal in human factors/ergonomics education with evidence of no more than five years of experience in “ergonomics” selling products from their storefront. Furthermore, this firm boasted of 25 years of high-tech executive experience and long days in front of a computer as their background along with possessing the private business certifications of CEAS and CEES at best.

The concern is not so relevant with chair fittings or preventive evaluations but with the management of workers’ compensation (WC) claims using the science of ergonomics. The evaluator should have an acute understanding of the work injury process, pain management and work-related musculoskeletal disorders to identify root cause of the work injury. WC claims are medical/legal cases and as such the evaluator may be required to defend their work in a court of law. Perhaps they do have the requisite knowledge, but let me say it like this, “Do you want the handyman to build your house or the state licensed contractor”?

What does this say about the direction of our profession? About the science of ergonomics? To me, it is the commoditization of ergonomics, a one-time specialty area that is being far undervalued, underbid and watered down to the extent that it will no longer be a viable and trusted profession. As I mentioned last month, it is becoming filled with “ergonomics carpetbaggers”. What do you think? Is ergonomics becoming commoditized? And what credentials entitle one to be called an “Ergonomist”?

Ref. #1: Understanding the basics, Learning What Commodities Are All About.

Ref #2: Commodity prices

Thanks for reading WIN NEWS blog.


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