You'll need to understand people - how they think and how they interact with the things around them - in order to develop processes, equipment and workspaces that make users safer, more productive and happier
As an ergonomist, also known as a human factors specialist, you're concerned with the safety and efficiency of equipment, systems and transportation - ensuring the protection, productivity, comfort and wellbeing of the people using them.
By scientifically studying the relationship between people, environments and equipment, you'll use your findings to improve human interaction with processes and systems.
You may be involved in the design of new products and could work in a range of environments, such as defence, energy, health and safety, healthcare, IT, manufacturing and transport.
Job titles vary and can include human factors engineer and human factors specialist.
As an ergonomist, you'll integrate human factors into the design, processes, operation and safety of products, workspaces and systems across a range of sectors. The nature of the role will depend on the sector you work in, but you'll typically need to:
- investigate the physical and psychological capabilities and limitations of the human body
- analyse how people use and interact with equipment and machinery
- undertake workplace risk assessments
- assess work environments and their effect on users
- use assessment results to identify areas for improvement
- design practical solutions to implement these improvements
- create user manuals to ensure the best use of new systems or products
- produce reports of findings and recommendations
- write proposals and compile statistical data
- use detailed knowledge of the human body to improve the design of products such as cars, office furniture and leisure facilities
- interview individuals and observe them in a particular type of environment, as part of the research process
- liaise with staff at all levels of an organisation to undertake research
- visit a range of environments, such as offices, factories, hospitals and oil rigs, in order to assess health and safety standards or to investigate workplace accidents
- provide advice, information and training to colleagues and clients
- act as an expert witness on the human factors aspects in cases of industrial injury, accidents and other work-related incidents
- develop a clear understanding of how specific industries and their systems work in a short space of time
- manage sections of projects
- present to clients, conferences and professional societies
- identify opportunities for new work.
- Salaries for new ergonomists typically range from around £19,000 to £27,000.
- Senior ergonomists can earn in the region of £35,000 to £65,000.
- At the highest levels, you can earn in excess of £65,000.
Salaries vary depending on the sector you work in, your experience and qualifications, your level of responsibility, location and type of employer. For example, salaries can vary significantly between large industrial companies and the public sector. Earnings in consultancies are equally variable.
Additional benefits may include a pension, private medical insurance and profit share.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Your working hours depend on the sector you work in and the particular project. You may work typical office hours, Monday to Friday, although some roles will require evening, weekend or shift work.
Flexible and hybrid working is a possibility with some employers.
What to expect
- Working environments can differ, but often involve a combination of office or laboratory-based activities and field work or site visits. This means you could be working outside in all weathers, working nights or working away from home.
- Jobs are available in most areas of the UK but geographic mobility may help you to secure promotion. Self-employment and freelance work is possible if you have experience in a specific area.
- The role often involves working as part of a multidisciplinary team including engineers, designers, psychologists, IT or healthcare professionals and/or working with clients or with individuals in the process of assessing workplace issues.
- You must be prepared to keep up to date with ongoing developments in technology and design.
- The amount of travel within a working day, absence from home at night and overseas work or travel varies according to the focus of the role. If you need to visit sites across the UK, for example, there will be regular travel and overnight stays.
Employers look for a high standard of academic qualifications and you'll typically need an undergraduate degree in ergonomics or human factors or a related degree such as psychology, engineering or design. Ideally, you'll have studied modules on ergonomics as part of your degree.
It's also possible to take a postgraduate course in ergonomics. Your choice may affect the type of areas in which you specialise as a professional ergonomist. Some courses focus on, for example, transport or health. You'll typically need a degree relevant to ergonomics to get a place on a course. Relevant subjects include:
- health sciences
- human physiology
- industrial or product design
- occupational therapy
- operations management
- sports science.
For a list of accredited courses, see the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (CIEHF). Check with course providers for exact entry requirements.
You'll be at an advantage if you have a relevant postgraduate qualification combined with related work experience in industry.
You can also move into ergonomics as a second career. Useful backgrounds include:
- design and engineering
- human physiology and sport
- occupational therapy
Student membership of the CIEHF is open to all students interested in ergonomics, no matter what degree you're studying for, and is useful for networking, events and support.
Many employers ask for membership of the CIEHF and/or British Psychological Society (BPS) as a prerequisite.
The CIEHF accredits a range of short courses providing an introduction to ergonomics and human factors.
You'll need to have:
- excellent interpersonal, oral and written communication skills
- strong listening and observation skills
- the ability to understand technical concepts and communicate them clearly to others
- an interest in and understanding of people's behaviour in different situations
- a systematic approach to studying people in their work environment and producing research
- analytical thinking
- the ability to build, influence and develop relationships with internal and external stakeholders
- the ability to work well collaboratively as part of a team and also independently
- a creative approach to problem solving
- organisation, planning and time management skills
- a practical and common-sense approach to work
- a good level of numeracy
- project management skills
- negotiation skills
- the motivation to keep learning throughout your career.
Relevant experience is helpful and employers usually prefer candidates with some industrial experience.
You can use your degree projects to develop areas of specialty and to create opportunities for holiday work. Sandwich degree courses provide the opportunity to gain a year of experience and to build a network of contacts.
You can gain greater insight into the profession through talking to working ergonomists. Contact the CIEHF for more information about speaking to professionals in the field and find out if it's possible to work shadow someone for the day.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Ergonomists are employed by a range of public and private sector organisations, such as:
- automotive companies
- consumer and safety laboratories
- defence and process companies
- government bodies and independent regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- IT consultancies
- manufacturing companies
- nuclear companies
- transportation companies, e.g. rail and aviation
- UK and overseas research institutes
- universities and research bodies
- utility companies, such as oil and gas.
If you're employed in these areas, you may work as part of a team of professionals, such as designers and health specialists, or as part of a specialist department.
Your first post is likely to be with an established company across the range of industries, at a university or at one of the larger ergonomics consultancies. After gaining sufficient experience you could move on to your own consultancy work.
General ergonomics consultancies offer a range of services to clients, such as health and safety, and hazard analysis.
Other companies offer more specialist support and require ergonomists with a greater level of experience and sector knowledge. Areas may include computer hardware and software ergonomics, human reliability assessment and product design.
Look for vacancies at:
- CIEHF Jobs
- The Ergonomist - monthly newsletter of the CIEHF.
- Jobs in Psychology
You can also check websites of the main institutions providing ergonomics degrees.
Specialist recruitment agencies such as Gold Group provide vacancies for qualified and experienced ergonomists.
Networking and speculative applications are also useful to help find positions. If you're thinking of setting up your own consultancy or going freelance once you've gained experience, see self-employment.
You will usually receive on-the-job training in areas such as procedures, systems and in-house regulations. You may also receive mentoring and coaching from more senior ergonomists at your organisation.
You should take responsibility for your own training and development throughout your career. The CIEHF provides a range of courses, conferences and seminars to enable you to develop expertise in specialist areas.
Membership of the CIEHF is important and provides the opportunity to network with other professionals. If you have a degree accredited by the CIEHF, you're eligible to become a graduate member. If you have any other degree, you can become an associate member. Membership of the BPS is also useful for some areas of work. They also provide a range of training, development and support activities.
Both graduate and associate members of the CIEHF can apply to become a Registered Member of the CIEHF. You'll need to have a set amount of relevant work experience and a record of your continuing professional development (CPD) activities.
Registered members are eligible for chartered status as a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist (C.ErgHF MCIEHF). In order to remain chartered, you'll need to keep a record of your CPD activities each year. It usually takes three to four years after graduation to gain chartered status.
It's also possible to do a Masters (if you don't already have one) or undertake research at PhD level in your relevant area of expertise.
Search postgraduate courses in ergonomics.
Ergonomics (also called human factors) is well established in many sectors, including defence, rail and aviation, and is making a strong impact in others such as manufacturing and healthcare. Career prospects are good for those with the right combination of education, skills and experience.
With experience you can move into senior ergonomist and line management roles with more responsibility for projects and people.
Developing specific areas of interest at an early stage can help you progress your career and gain entry into specialist consultancies. Developing specialised interests at degree/placement level and working with a mentor can support this process.
Becoming actively involved with the CIEHF and getting known within the industry can boost your opportunities for career progression. Some employers prefer applicants with chartered ergonomist status, and so gaining chartership with the CIEHF may also help your career prospects.
You may need to move companies to progress your career, depending on the size and nature of the company you work for. It's also possible to move on to freelance consultancy work.
Some ergonomists and human factors specialists move into research, either within universities offering ergonomics and human factors degree courses or with other organisations such as government bodies.