Steve Gray talks about his career as an ergonomic consultant.  You can find him and his company at www.ergohealthy.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?   

Ergonomic Consultant

How would you describe what you do?

Help people and companies by identifying ergonomic issues in the workplace to prevent injuries.  Specifically correcting those conditions or recommending changes to improve a person’s work environment or working conditions for the purpose of preventing injuries and improving a worker’s wellbeing.

What does your work entail?

Conducting on-site and remote interviews to gather information in order to understand what corrective actions should be taken to ensure that a person is working in a safe way and that they are educated as to what causes RSIs (repetitive stress injuries) and MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders).

What’s a typical workweek like?

Traveling to different job sites to address and resolve ergonomic issues they are experiencing in their work.  It also involves working with clients remotely via on-line surveys, phone calls and review of video, photos or via an on-line source such as Skype.

How did you get started?

I started out in the field over 20 years ago.  At that time, people who reported injuries while working in office computer desk-type jobs were considered absurd.  The line of thinking was “you are not digging ditches or carrying heavy materials all day long…you are sitting at a desk typing!”  “How could you get injured doing that?”  As time has gone by and more study has been done on how repetitive motions, repetitive stress activities erode the body’s ability to heal itself because it never gets a chance to heal before the next repetitive stress is stack on top of the last one.

What do you like about what you do?

If you get satisfaction from helping people stay healthy or recover from the effects of poor workstation environment or unhealthy practices, then this field may be for you.

What do you dislike?

The old saying that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” applies to this field.  Individuals I work with who are typically very appreciative of our efforts and suggestions and the embrace changes that we make to their work environment.  These are the people who ultimately benefit in a big way.  Other times people who do not embrace change will continue to do what they have done in the past (even though it has resulted in injury and pain) because they think change is too hard.  Once people realize that change is much less painful that living with the pain of a debilitating injury, then they become very open to changes and embrace the information, recommendations and improvement suggestions.

The other unfortunate thing is that many times, people or companies do not consider proper ergonomics until an injury has occurred.  So many times these injuries are 100% preventable if the person is empowered with knowledge of the basic ergonomic guidelines.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Typically my clients are workers’ compensation insurance companies and individual companies who see the need to protect against MSDs, workers’ comp claims and the loss of productivity that results from people working in discomfort or with injury.  With the workers’ compensation insurance companies, the assignments are directed to one individual, a person who is already injured and has filed a workers’ comp claim.  With regard to the other companies who contract with me, the focus in proactive rather than reactive.  With a proactive approach, we can spot, identify and resolve ergonomic issues throughout a company and therefore make changes long before anyone acquires an injury.  If the risk is eliminated, the injury has no place to develop.

How much money do Ergonomists make? 

I know ergonomic consultants who make $50,000 a year and others who make $150,000+.  If you work hard and apply yourself you could be making $100,000+ by your 2nd or 3rd year.  Many consultants are self-employed though so if you do not run your business right and if you do not take care of your clients’ needs you might make $0.  That is why with each and every assignment your mindset has to be “This will be the best work I’ve ever done” and that will guarantee your future success in this field.  When you do exceptional work, clients will continue to send you more and more assignments.

How much money did/do you make starting out? 

I will refer anyone interested in this field to check out a few websites in regards to salaries.  They really vary according to company.  From my research it looks like the salary range is $41,000 to $104,000.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become an ergonomic consultant?

A professional ergonomic consultant is at the minimum certified with at least a bachelor’s degree but more typically master’s degree with emphasis in human factors.  Additional trainings are available in all aspects of the field; office environment, warehouse/blue collar/material handling, laboratory, shipping/receiving and all other aspects of job classifications.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The travel can be an issue because, by definition, an on-site ergonomic evaluation means exactly that…you travel to their place of work to assess the ergonomic issues that are present and to make the appropriate changes or recommendations to remove those risk factors.  If you are a person who does not like to drive or travel for work in the field, this is probably not the career for you.  Also, the more time you spend seeing clients and out in the field, can mean that you have to do your reports and other research at nights and over the weekends.  Typically, every assignment requires a detailed report covering your findings, your recommendations and what adjustments that you made at the time of the ergo eval.  The more ergonomic assessments you conduct out in the field means the more reports you must write to close out the assignment.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing about this occupation is the satisfaction that comes from knowing that your efforts can save someone a lifetime of serious injury and pain.  By educating the client and making changes at their work environment we can remove or at least significantly reduce the causation factors that lead to injuries.  Without the cause there will be no effect.  In other words, when we educate people on how to take care of themselves by following our guidelines, they can remove the causes before they develop into problems.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

If you get satisfaction from helping people and doing a very complete and conscientious job, then this is a great field.  I have been in this field over 20 years and I still love doing what I do.

How much time off do you get/take?

This really depends on whom you work for.  I am self employed and therefore I have more freedom and flexibility than if I worked for a company with a set vacation schedule.  I take about 3-4 weeks a year of periodic vacations and I am able to take short vacations when I travel to conduct the ergonomic process in other cities or states.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

One of the most common misconceptions about ergonomics is that equipment alone is the solution.  For example, many people think that if you just give someone an ergonomic chair they will be “good to go”.   But it goes much deeper than that.  Actually, the most important thing we do is to educate our clients as to the what’s, how’s and why’s of the proper ergonomic postures and practices that can prevent musculoskeletal injuries from occurring in the first place.  The largest cause of MSDs is that people have never been educated on how to set up their workstations and what postures or processes should be avoided in order to maintain one’s health and wellbeing.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

To be able to educate and empower great numbers of people with ergonomic awareness and the understanding that each of us has the power and the responsibility to protect ourselves from these debilitating injuries.  The starting point is to make people aware of how they can prevent their own injuries by being aware of their postures, repetitive motions, contact stresses, overuse of certain body parts, and all the other considerations.  Once they are aware, then they can do something about it to protect themselves.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I feel very fortunate to have lucked into this career…half science and half art.  Every new person I work with is a new experience with different factors present.  One solution does not work for everyone because we are all different in size, shape, level of fitness, propensity to different weaknesses or illnesses, etc.  Therefore, every new client should be approached with an open mind as to what their issues are and which solution will have the most likeliness for success.  Ergonomic consulting is a great career for someone who does not want to do the same thing everyday, day in and day out.  Conversely, if you are a person who likes doing the same things day after day, then this field might not be for you.