A case for certification

(Editor's Note: COS welcomes Don Patten, president of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists, to its roster of columnists. Don's articles on ergonomics will now be published in both the print issues of COS and online.) Gathering up enough strength to head to the grocery store for much needed “sick” supplies such as Kraft dinner, peanut butter, popsicles and Vicks vapo rub I started thinking about food safety. Why? Well, besides spending a week not eating, I thought about those who died as a result of the listeriosis outbreak and how fragile our food supply really is. One outbreak like this can affect so many lives, and really gets you thinking about what you put on your plate.

I bought my supplies and people made their purchases probably not thinking about food safety, except for me of course. No one was worried. No mass panic. Why? Regulation and certification. Without food safety regulations, restaurant and certified food inspectors and other controls we would likely see more and more outbreaks.

It’s certification and regulations that help to keep us safe. When rules are not followed and inspections not done, issues occur. In health and safety, we see the same problems, if we don’t follow the rules people get hurt and people die.

When it comes to work, we want to make sure that the tasks we perform, equipment we use and the environments we work in are well-designed for our physical and mental capabilities. Having a good “fit” between people and the work they perform increases effectiveness and productivity, and reduces the risk of injury and error.

This is the goal of ergonomics and the ergonomist. To achieve this goal, an ergonomist must have knowledge of our capabilities and how they relate to our daily tasks. This knowledge is gained through a combination of education in the sciences of human characteristics and work systems, and experience with applying that knowledge to the assessment and design of products, equipment, work processes and work environments.

How can you be sure that the ergonomics practitioner you wish to employ or hire as a consultant has this knowledge? This is where the CCCPE can help. No, this acronym doesn’t come from a reincarnation of the Soviet hockey team from the 1970s. It actually stands for the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists. The College was established in 1998 to help protect consumers and the reputation of ergonomists, and to improve the quality of practice. Applicants who meet the requirements of the CCCPE are given the designation of Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE).

Some ergonomists practicing in Canada have the equivalent U.S. designation of CPE or CHFP through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics (BCPE). There are also many qualified professionals who work in ergonomics, and have accumulated a great deal of experience, but who are not necessarily certified by the CCCPE.

Another way to find out more about a potential employee or contractor for ergonomics services, is to ask for referrals from previous employers and customers and to exercise due diligence. As an employer or contractor of a CCPE, you can be confident that the ergonomist has:
•     the knowledge and skills necessary to work in the ergonomics discipline;
•     adequate familiarity and competence with the tools and methods used to apply his or her knowledge and skills in the field;
•    experience with the application of the tools and feedback on their use; and
•     current experience in ergonomics.

To date over 233 people have been designated as either a CCPE (169) or Associate Ergonomist (64). The AE designation indicates that the person has met the educational requirements and is working toward his or her CCPE. A list of certified ergonomists is available at www.cccpe.ca. Consultants may also be listed in the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE) Directory of Consultants.

The CCPE designation is the only certification offered in Canada that requires applicants to meet standard competencies in both education and practice across the entire breadth of the ergonomics discipline. Its members are held to a code of ethics, and devote the majority of their work time to the application, practice and/or teaching of ergonomics. (Visit www.cccpe.ca for more information on the specific competency requirements.)

Like the men and women that ensure my family enjoys safe food supply, CCCPE-certified ergonomists help protect the public, ensuring that the standards of ergonomics practice keep growing and that the integrity and professionalism of ergonomics is maintained to a higher standard.