Member Stories

Read about the career journeys some of our members have taken.

How did you find out about ergonomics?
When I was 17 a careers advisor suggested I look at ergonomics, as they recognised the value of my scientific background, but also my desire for creativity, problem solving, and working with real people on real problems that could benefit us all. Why a career in ergonomics? I enrolled on an engineering course, but had already decided that it was too dry and purely scientific for me, so I changed to ergonomics and felt instantly at home. Indeed, it turned out to be just about the best decision I've ever made. Since then, I've wanted to stay doing ergonomics, and have been lucky to be able to do what I've done. I still love it, and while my specialisms may eventually take me away from ergonomics in the broadest sense, I imagine I will always consider myself first and foremost an ergonomist.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
I’ve been very lucky to work on several fascinating and influential projects. With one, we were able to fundamentally improve aviation security in the UK by taking a human-centred approach to the introduction of a new x-ray screening technology (before 9/11). My work in healthcare looking at reducing errors in paediatric cardiac surgery (about the most complex type of surgery one can imagine!) has probably been the most interesting, because of the challenges I faced in learning about (and seeing at first hand) surgical error, but also the rewards of finding answers and making important improvements to the care of very sick kids. Working with the Ferrari F1 motor racing team on some of this work was great fun, and the success of that small project has subsequently taken me all over the world.

What’s been the most challenging work you’ve done?
Working on surgical errors has been the most challenging by far; having to understand the language of medicine; the complexity of hospitals and surgical care; faced with doctors and nurses who have never heard of human factors, deny making errors, and directly question the value of your work; yet seeing errors happen, being able to identify why they've happened and how to avoid making them again; introducing new concepts and ways of working, having to defend and scientifically measure complex interactions between people and their work environment. These challenges are what make it so rewarding both personally and professionally.

What do you do on a typical day?
Answer emails, have a cup of coffee, analyse a set of data at my desk or visit the ward or operating theatres to collect data, have lunch, talk to someone about a safety project and the ergonomics/human factors involved, and then write a presentation, or work on a scientific paper for future publication.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
Offering expertise that few other people can offer and knowing it will benefit the people who are doing the work. Getting first-hand experience of other jobs without actually having to do the job. I've spent time on warships, in ambulances, operating theatres, wards, airports and factories. I volunteered to sit in a bunker that was shelled and even got to fly a multi-million pound flight simulator. And finally being able to turn all that into science that clearly demonstrates progress and value, is intellectually challenging, and changes the way we all think about the world.

How did you find out about ergonomics?
When I was in my final year at Sheffield University, studying biology, I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to follow. I tried some teaching work experience but wasn’t convinced it was the right job for me. In my career researching I completed an online survey which provided suggestions for which occupations would be suited to me. One of the suggested occupations was ergonomics, and to be honest, I didn’t know what it was at the time! However, I started to do some more research into it and discovered that there were ergonomists working at the Health and Safety Laboratories (HSL) just over the road in Sheffield. I arranged to go and talk with an ergonomist there and things snowballed. I applied for the Masters degree at Loughborough and was accepted.

Why a career in ergonomics?
As soon as I started the Masters at Loughborough I knew that ergonomics was the subject and career for me, I only wished that I’d stumbled across it earlier. Throughout school and university I was a bit of a scientist and ergonomics had lots of science in it but its application was in the real world. I could therefore see straight away that ergonomics was something important and worth doing. Towards the end of my year at Loughborough I started applying for jobs, one of which was for an ergonomist at HSL! I went for the interview and was offered the job. After completing my Masters I had a week holiday in Greece and then started work at HSL straight after.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
After two enjoyable years working for HSL I was offered a job as a Human Factors Specialist with RSSB, based in London. RSSB is the Rail Safety and Standards Board and I’ve been there since October 2006. I would say that the most interesting, and indeed most challenging project, is the project which was handed to me on day one and which is in its final stages at the moment. The project was to redesign and test the user interface for a train safety system in the driver’s cab, so we had responsibility for ensuring that driver’s could use the train safety system flawlessly! The project involved applying knowledge about interface design and running a trial in train simulators. The challenge has been to implement the changes emerging from the project into the Railway Group Standards in terms of building consensus in the industry to make any changes and dealing with technical limitations.

What do you do on a typical day?
My job is mainly office-based so typically I would make my way to our office in Angel. After dealing with any email queries I start work on any projects that I have on the go. These projects tend to fit into two categories. The first is where I undertake the technical work myself, and the second is where I review the work of other specialists and provide comments and technical guidance. It is very rare that I have a day free of meetings so usually I have project meetings to attend. Aside from project work I also have managerial tasks such as meeting with our placement student to discuss her projects.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
Knowing that the work that I do either improves a person’s experience of their job or makes certain safety-critical tasks less error prone.

How did you find out about ergonomics?
We touched on the subject very briefly in A-Level Design Technology but like most ergonomists, I didn’t head to university thinking "I really want to study ergonomics!" In actual fact I didn’t really realise it was a subject you could do as a separate entity until I did a module on design ergonomics in my first year of a product design engineering degree. I found it really interesting and when I decided not to continue with the engineering degree it seemed a sensible option. I was fortunate that I was already a member of the only university in the country to offer ergonomics as an undergraduate degree so could transfer over very easily.

Why a career in ergonomics?
I’ve always been interested in design, from an early age I always enjoyed designing and making things. I went to university expecting to carry on into a product design career but I soon found that I’d chosen the wrong course. When I looked into the side of design I enjoyed the most I realised that it was the concept of solving somebody else’s problem with a design which was perfect for them. To me, this is the central core to what I do as an ergonomist. I like to speak to a client, help them highlight what problems they’re having, what the root cause of these is and then work with them to create the ideal solution. I like to use the skills I’ve learned as a designer to combine with the knowledge of human factors and ergonomics to really create unusual solutions and designs. Another reason for my career is that I’ve got thoroughly frustrated and heard people complain a lot about 'bad design'. In my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad designer, just an ill-informed one and an ergonomist should be involved in the design of absolutely anything which is going to be used by people. Frankly I want to be that ergonomist who’s making the right designs go out so in a few years’ time I can point to something in a friend’s house and say "I helped design that!"

What has been the most interesting project you have worked on?
The most interesting projects for me inevitably involve designing things for our clients and particularly anything which involves creating 3D computer models as this is my specialty. The most interesting jobs which I get involved with tend to be creating designs for products which will be installed in publicly accessible areas on transport systems or similar places that I know my friends and family will probably see. One of these was the design of the electronic status boards which are in the entrances of almost every London Underground station which we developed the first prototypes for. The major challenges with the project were creating a system which was not only easy to read for customers but which didn’t create too much heat and was very easy to install and carry out maintenance on. Our design involved creating a simple design concept in an afternoon which I then CAD-modelled and which went on to be installed as a working prototype on a number of stations. I can now proudly point to these and bore whoever’s with me by saying "that’s one of ours!"

What’s been the most challenging work you’ve done?
The most challenging projects I have carried out have been installing real-world solutions to problems in out-dated control rooms. Our clients have come to us on numerous occasions with problems raised by their control staff regarding the environment, equipment or design of their old control rooms. Once we’ve been in and studied the issues using various ergonomics tools we make recommendations as to how the client can solve them. Unlike some other groups, we also manage the whole process through to completed installation of the solution and this is where it gets challenging! Fitting a completely new custom-built desking system onto a control desk which was built in the 1950s out of rusty steel, during a three hour night shift because you’re unable to access the room during the day, can get pretty messy.

What do you do on a typical day?
My typical day involves either meetings with clients at their places of work to talk through issues and ongoing projects with them or working from our offices on creating the solutions the client needs. My work ranges on a day-to-day basis from reading current research and standards through writing analysis reports and carrying out workload analyses all the way through to creating 3D visualisations of entire buildings and products. I spend a lot of time working on computer aided design packages creating images and videos of our proposed solutions to give the client a real view of what they’ll get. The rest of my day is taken up with the thrills of running a hockey team and running around like an idiot doing cross-country races and marathons!

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
The most satisfying part of my job is linked to the work we do in our group. As consultants we work in a very wide variety of industries which means that generally the work I’m doing changes on a day-to-day basis. I like that I’m able to help clients by providing them not only with reports identifying what issues they have but also real-world solutions which make those problems go away. I also like working within our tight-knit team where all of us have our own areas of expertise. Gaining experience from the other members of the team has really helped me get better at my job and also increased my enjoyment of it.

How did you find about ergonomics?
I first found out about ergonomics whilst at university studying applied psychology, during modules related to occupational psychology. I found modules such as work design and personnel management very interesting but wasn’t too sure how could this knowledge could be applied to the workplace. The work design modules gave me an insight about how everyday things are designed for humans to enable them to be used easily, and how frustrating it can be for when they have not been designed with the user in mind.

Why a career in ergonomics?
When I left university I was unsure what job I wanted to do; most of my friends went onto do a PGCE to become teachers but that wasn’t for me. I knew I wanted to use my psychology degree on a daily basis as I find the study of people fascinating. I looked into many different career options in which psychology can be used, from management positions, marketing, educational psychology and even thought about joining the RAF as an Officer. I found that employers wanted more from me than a degree; they wanted life experience and additional skills. I ended up working as a Risk Assistant where I completed a course in health and safety - General Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health. I started to realise how important human factors is in terms of safety, as I became interested in the things people do to make their job easier to save themselves time, even if this means sometimes putting themselves at risk, and how for example, good task design, staffing and procedures can reduce this.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
The most interesting project I have worked on is the Windscale Piles Decommissioning project for which we provided human factors support. The Windscale reactors are located in Windermere and operated until there was a fire in one of the reactors in 1957. For this project I provide ergonomics guidance on a number of issues as they arose in the design, for example, the design of a shift system, operation of remote handling tools and labelling of a waste container. I have also completed a task analysis of the process of waste separation, resulting in production of recommendations to the design team. This involved assessing training, procedures, user interfaces, communication systems and identifying the potential for human error and improved design. I enjoy travelling up to site and meeting the project team to discuss the design and operation of the equipment. The project team are really helpful and fun to work with.

What’s been the most challenging work you’ve done?
So far, all of it! By choosing to apply human factors within a high hazard industry, I’m faced with the challenge of applying my specialist knowledge to areas outside my technical discipline. I have to understand the engineering side of the designs and safety aspects of the project before I can identity any human factors issues. This creates challenges for other team members too, for example, physicists have to explain nuclear reactors to me, a psychology graduate.

What do you do on a typical day?
There is isn’t really a typical day as a consultant, I work on a variety of projects, sometimes more than one at a time, and this makes my work very challenging and interesting as no two projects are alike. My work involves going to a client’s site and conducting ergonomic walk downs of the facility or particular task, and talking to all levels of the project team from operators to project managers. My job is very varied, one day I could be looking at the control panel of an experimental reactor, the next, attending marketing meetings with associates. As well as technical work, I chair the monthly HF team meeting in which we discuss current project and issues. I also get involved with business development and marketing... and organise department nights out!

What do you find satisfying about your work?
I like the variety of my work, as a consultant I work for different clients so no job is the same, which means I never get bored. This also lets me work with a range of people, teams and visit different facilities over all the UK, and there are further opportunities to work farther afield. I’d say I am a people person so I enjoy chatting and meeting to new people. I enjoy working in human factors as the subject area is so extensive, there are so many different areas to specialise in, so I know there is still so much more to learn and experience. I am currently looking forward to returning to the second year of my masters in Ergonomics and Safety at Work at Cranfield University. This has allowed me to meet other ergonomists and learn what they do for a living too.

How did you find out about ergonomics?
I discovered ergonomics first informally, then formally. I grew up in a family business with a strong work ethic, and my Dad always tried to instil in me and my brothers the most efficient way of completing tasks. Without realising it (or appreciating it!), I was having my first lessons in work design. In secondary school, I took a GCSE in Design and Communication. For one of my coursework projects, I chose to design an adjustable desk. I sourced some 'anthropometric data' (probably from myself!) to determine the relevant design characteristics. It was a good hands-on introduction to some of the challenges of designing things for human use. On finishing secondary school, I I took A Levels in psychology, business and communication, before embarking on a BSc Applied Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, which was superb. Throughout my degree, I was particularly interested in cognitive and social psychology but I retained an interest in work and industry. At this point, I was interested in both advertising psychology and ergonomics & human factors. In my final year I chose courses in human factors in design, human-computer interaction, industrial psychology, and human relations at work. I found the lectures both fascinating and useful. These courses set me up perfectly for a career in ergonomics, and I went on to complete an Masters and part-time PhD.

Why a career in ergonomics?
Ergonomics combines my interests in industry, design and psychology and embodies humanistic values that are very important to me. Fundamentally, I believe that work, and the systems, procedures and processes that are involved, should improve the human condition, and therefore should be designed with people's needs, wants, abilities and limitations as a central focus - not a side issue. Ergonomics has great potential to safeguard life, property and the environment, to improve health, and to increase satisfaction and personal fulfilment, while also improving productivity and efficiency. I am very thankful now that I chose to apply myself to actually helping people, rather than advertising to them.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
There have been many, but my first research and development projects at National Air Traffic Services, as an intern then employee, were aimed at understanding human error in air traffic control. I examined several years' of ATC incident data, interviewed controllers, conducted observations during simulations and produced a taxonomy of how and why errors in ATC occurred. I, and others, have subsequently applied the taxonomy (called TRACEr) to many incidents involving loss of separation between aircraft, and to predict potential errors associated with new systems.

What’s been the most challenging work you’ve done?
My most challenging project involved human factors, safety assurance and training for the new Heathrow control tower - a large and complex project. The new control tower is in a different position on the airfield and is twice the height of the old tower, with completely different working positions and with completely new technology - all introduced simultaneously. My role involved leading the human factors safety assurance for the transition to operations, assessing performance readiness during training in the simulator and the new tower, and helping to resolve some very difficult human factors design issues, as well as more general management consultancy. The challenges were more both technical and socio-political, but the biggest challenges lay in change management, both in terms of staff and management. This illustrated to me the importance of the ergonomist as a ‘skilled helper’ who combines technical skills and knowledge with industry understanding and ‘soft skills’. The processes of helping and the factors influencing these processes are equally or more important in determining whether an ergonomics intervention leads to lasting change.

What do you do on a typical day?
There really isn't a typical day. I have worked in industry and academia, in a variety of settings including a large air traffic control organisation, a consultancy organisation, a university and as a sole trader. My roles have all involved ergonomics and human factors but have varied widely. As a practitioner, a ‘typical day’ has involved observing controller behaviour in an air traffic control tower (real and simulator), interviewing air traffic controllers about incidents, assessing control rooms and simulators, and helping to design user interfaces such as touch screen displays of flight data, as well as presenting findings to management, and sharing information with colleagues. As a researcher and educator, a ‘typical day’ may involve collecting data, analysing data, writing research papers, or preparing or delivering lectures and training. Ergonomics is such a diverse field, and if you maintain a broad approach, no two projects will ever be the same.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
Three things: it’s interesting, it involves working with people, and it makes a difference! Ergonomics is, in itself, interesting and engaging. It blends science, engineering and craft, drawing from our own discipline and from other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, physiology, anatomy, design, engineering, and management science. At some point or other, a lot of what I learned at university has been put into use in some way. But it doesn’t end there - being an ergonomist involves lifelong learning and stretching oneself constantly. It also involves working with people, for people. It is essentially participatory and I usually prefer to be seen as a skilled helper rather than as an expert. With the right approach, an ergonomist can be a very effective bridge between different groups within an organisation, such as operators at the ‘sharp end’, and senior management at the ‘blunt end’. Ultimately, I’m in this career to make a difference, particularly to help safeguard life and improve conditions for people at work. Knowing that my work contributes to this aim is very satisfying.

How did you find out about ergonomics?
A school friend went to Loughborough one year before me on the original 'ergonomics and cybernetics' course. He knew my interest in human biology and thought that I might be interested in finding out a bit more. He was right!

Why a career in ergonomics?
Because I can apply my skills to directly helping real people.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
I have had a very real opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects. If I had to pick out the highlights it would be designing the Central Command Complex at New Scotland Yard, planning the human factors input for an experimental fusion reactor, and looking at safety and offshore working conditions.

What’s been the most challenging work you’ve done?
All projects in my experience are challenging - whether its timescales, available budgets, technical constraints - or a combination of all of these.

What do you do on a typical day?
As managing director of CCD it’s a mix of company management and technical work. A typical day would involve technical checking of reports, meeting with our Finance Manager, fire-fighting problems arising on projects - whether managerial or technical, preparing proposals and making marketing calls, having '5 minute' progress checks on on-going projects and spending time on the dreaded email log!

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
The opportunity of dealing with both management and actual users in the same organisation and acting as a conduit for relaying concerns. The occasional comment from a user when they thank you for asking about them. Memorably offshore on the drill floor when a group of roughnecks, in their hard-hats and high visibility orange outfits, thanked us for listening to their problems. It was the first time, they said, that this had happened.