Ergonomists have a wide range of experience and backgrounds. According to the Board of Certification for Professional Ergonomics, certification is a voluntary process. In fact, applicants have to demonstrate that they already have a few years of professional experience, before they qualify for the Board’s certification.
If you’re in charge of hiring the ergonomic consultant, it’s probably wise to hire someone who’s already certified. This means they have a few years of consulting experience, classroom training, and have passed a standardized written test. There are also master’s programs in ergonomics that can qualify a practitioner.
Here’s what a good ergonomist should do once they set foot in your cubicle:
Look at your current workstation to see whether it meets basic ergonomic guidelines
Ask what types of activities you perform regularly, to see what accommodations need to be made — for example, if you are often on the phone, you may need a headset
Evaluate whether the furniture fits you — for example, if the chair is too big or too small, or whether your hands comfortably reach the keyboard
Watch you type — to see whether you’re twisting your hands in a certain way when typing or reaching for the mouse
Listen to you talk about the pain or discomfort you’re having, and review what might be causing that
Recommend steps you can take to improve your workstation and alleviate discomfort
Write an evaluation — a copy for you and one for your employer. This should contain action items that may involve workplace rearrangement, the purchase of new equipment, or suggestion of alternative keyboards or mice that might work well for you
If the ergonomic evaluation solves some of your problems, but you’re still having pain a couple weeks later, you might want to ask for a second consultation. On a second round, the ergonomist might be more likely to suggest more drastic changes to your workstation, such as switching out your keyboard for a dramatically different one.
When I worked for a large organization, we had an ergonomist on staff, who also had a supply of different keyboards and mice. After looking at my workstation, she was able to “rent out” some products for me to try — the Kinesis Advantage keyboard and a Vertical Mouse. After a couple of months, I found that these alleviated my symptoms significantly, so the company purchased a set for me. I liked the keyboard so much that I also bought one for myself, for my home office.
Not all companies are able to provide these services for their employees. Many don’t have the infrastructure to keep a full time ergonomist on staff, or have equipment for you to try. Some won’t be willing to buy alternative input devices, either. But if you’re in pain, and nothing else seems to be helping, you might want to try using a different type of keyboard or mouse on your own. They are expensive, but if they save you pain, it is money well spent. If they don’t help, you can always sell them too. In the next post, I’ll list a few suggestions.