Tommaso Lenzi, PhD
Ergonomics and Safety
What is Ergonomics?
How can an engineer design a workplace from the ground up to protect the health and safety needs of workers? What modifications can be made to the equipment workers utilize each day to allow them to perform their jobs more efficiently? These are questions professionals in ergonomics — which is the study of minimizing hazards and maximizing the efficiency of a work environment — grapple with each day, with responsibilities ranging from redesigning the layout of a shipping facility in order to limit the amount of lifting workers must perform to engineering a harness for window washers that reduces tension in their backs.
What is Occupational Safety?
Occupational safety involves utilizing engineering principles to evaluate workplace hazards and designing and implementing preventive solutions. An occupational safety professional’s work may be as simple as creating a system to hide wires at a manufacturing firm to prevent trips and falls or as complex as designing a ventilation system to ensure workers at a chemical plant aren’t exposed to dangerous vapors.
Imagine a future where millions of people in the U.S. who’ve suffered debilitating health crises can reenter the workforce through the assistance of robotic exoskeletons that enable them to move freely. And where, for other workers, exoskeletons serve to prevent injuries, allowing them to perform strenuous tasks, such as repeatedly lifting heavy items, without incurring the kind of physical toll that leaves hundreds of thousands of workers with a diminished quality of life.
This is the future RMCOEH is helping create — and it’s just one example of the opportunities students in our Ergonomics and Safety program have to use their inventiveness and problem-solving skills to create a better world for workers.
Our Ergonomics and Safety program provides students with holistic and interdisciplinary training that, in addition to ergonomics and safety courses, also includes foundational knowledge in disciplines such as occupational injury prevention, industrial hygiene, and occupational health, giving them a leg up when they enter the workforce.
Degrees and Requirements
- Master of Occupational Health
- Master of Science in Occupational Health
- Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering
- PhD in Mechanical Engineering
Further, students in our program have the flexibility to tailor their training to their desired career, including coursework in robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Students who envision becoming engineers can pursue a master’s or doctoral degree through the University of Utah’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, gaining expertise in how to apply occupational safety and health principles to engineering fields. The training includes the opportunity for in-depth study of wearable sensors and exoskeletons, which are leading technologies for occupational health and safety advances and provide new means to prevent work-related disorders and help people with severe physical disabilities return to work.
Alternatively, students can pursue a master’s degree through the Occupational and Environmental Health Graduate Programs — opting to focus on either ergonomics or safety — and receive deeper and broader training specific to core occupational safety and health topics. Students who choose this graduate degree program also learn engineering principles but generally are not seeking engineering careers.
Both options prepare students for success upon graduation, and to have an immense positive impact on the safety and health of workers.
There are abundant, diverse careers available in these disciplines, and our graduates are primed to thrive in them: According to a survey we conducted in 2022, for instance, a full 50% of trainees who graduated from our Ergonomics and Safety program are either managers or directors in their organizations.
“I am a national leader in my field because of the training and experience I received,” one graduate said in the survey.
What’s more, professionals in these fields are well compensated for their expertise. The median income for people with mechanical engineering degrees who attain professional licensure — as many of our graduates do — is $133,000, according to a 2017 survey from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. A 2020 survey conducted by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, meanwhile, indicated certified safety professionals, another designation our graduates commonly earn, earn a median salary of $110,000.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers detailed information about ergonomics
- The American Society of Mechanical Engineers provides a wealth of resources for students and professionals