Program Background

  1. Program Rationale

A program in Occupational Safety and Ergonomics is offered to students pursuing a master’s degree in the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering at OSU, to provide educational opportunities to engineering students interested in pursuing industrial, consulting, or academic careers in occupational safety and ergonomics, or related areas.  This NIOSH-supported Training Project Grant program is designed for students who wish to obtain a master’s degree in engineering, while pursuing their interests in occupational safety and ergonomics.  Given that engineers often design the systems with which people work, it makes sense to educate engineers about the potential impact various design decisions can have on the humans who will operate those systems.  As such, this program has been designed to fulfill all the M.S. degree requirements of the Department while allowing students to specialize in Occupational Safety & Ergonomics.

  1. Background History

Ohio State University is an ideal place to prepare engineers to work in the area of safety and ergonomics.  Ohio State University ranks among the top 20 research universities in the country, based on rankings posted by the National Science Foundation in 2015.  This means that at OSU students have opportunities to learn from and interact with some of the best teachers and researchers in the country.

Ohio State’s Integrated Systems Engineering Department has housed, for a number of years now, one of the strongest human factors and ergonomics programs in the country, based on faculty records and reputations, and those of our graduates.  The program was one of the first to be accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES).  Faculty from across OSU’s Columbus campus participate in this program.  Primary program faculty include William S. Marras, Steven A. Lavender and Carolyn M. Sommerich.  They are all in the ISE Department and specialize in ergonomics and occupational biomechanics.  Also in ISE are Philip J. Smith (relevant research interests:  cognitive systems engineering; research focuses on issues concerned with design of cooperative problem-solving systems to support people in performing complex tasks), David Woods (relevant research interests:  patient safety; resilience engineering and management), Mike Rayo (data analytics and data visualization; handoffs; decision support), and Blaine Lilly (relevant research interests:  design for usability and manufacturability).  From OSU’s College of Public Health:  Michael Bisesi (relevant research interests:  occupational and environmental health).

Our NIOSH-sponsored Program helps us increase the number of students we are able to train, expand our programmatic offerings beyond human factors and ergonomics, and create a well-rounded, well-conceived program in safety and ergonomics that exposes our students to faculty from several different departments at OSU and numerous expert practitioners in the Central Ohio area.  This, in turn, helps us provide more Ohio employers and those elsewhere with engineers who become valuable employees because of the breadth of their training (research methods, safety, heath, ergonomics/human factors, and others), sector exposure (agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing, and others), and instructor exposure (academics and experienced professionals).

  1. The Need for Graduate Studies in Ergonomics and Safety

In 2016 there were more than 892,000 lost time occupational injuries and illnesses in private-sector workplaces in the US (Bureau of Labor Statistics).   For 2014, Liberty Mutual reported that total cost burden of disabling work-related injuries in the US was estimated to be almost $60 billion dollars. In our state, in 2016, lost wages, alone, paid from the workers compensation system totaled $9.8 million.

In the face of such statistics, there is a clear need for engineers to specialize in ergonomics and safety, given that engineers specify and design the systems in which people work.  This approach provides more opportunities to be proactive about safety, by specifying, designing, and installing equipment and systems that are safer from the beginning, rather than being limited to working retroactively and having to compensate for less-than-ideal systems. Engineering, occupational ergonomics, and occupational safety and health are complementary disciplines that are supportive of one another and are inextricably linked.  The ISE MS Program in Safety and Ergonomics is designed to provide students with an educational experience based on this model.