Like Safety, Success Doesn’t Happen by Accident

There are many sayings in the world of ergonomics like, “Safety doesn’t happen by accident.” Another is, “Safety comes in a can: I can, you can, we can be safe.” Sure, it’s a little corny, but the message rings true. It takes everyone working together to keep each other safe. The same can be said for success. So it’s no surprise that the safety experts at NC State’s The Ergonomics Center (Center) worked together to make their time at this year’s Applied Ergonomics Conference (AEC) an overwhelming success. 

The Center’s executive director Julia Abate and her entire team had a hand in many aspects of this year’s conference. She and Jeff Hoyle, director of ergonomic services, helped plan the event. Jeff also co-chaired the internationally recognized Ergo Cup Competition. Gary Downey and Mirtha Perazza, master ergonomists, hosted workshops and panel discussions and Stephen McNierney, director of marketing, ran the Center’s virtual vendors booth. Along with NC State ISE Department, they put their money where their mouth is by sponsoring the Ergo Cup Competition and all of the master track and round table sessions. It didn’t take long for that hard work and dedication to pay dividends.

Practitioner of the Year

For his imaginative use of ergonomic systems, Jeff Hoyle received the Creativeness in Ergonomics Practitioner of the Year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining a high standard of communication, consulting and training services required innovative solutions. Hoyle and his team created online, on-demand training modules, virtual workshops and video demonstrations of their usual hands-on activities. “We are also pivoting toward the use of emerging technology such as artificial intelligence, computer vision, wearable sensors, and augmented reality to enhance our capabilities and services,” Hoyle described. 

These services can affect many aspects of a client’s company. As Hoyle pointed out, many people think that ergonomics is only about the design of objects. However, ergonomics is taken from the Greek ergon- (work) and -nomos (law), making it the Laws of Work, which is quite broad. “Ergonomics applies to anyone looking to optimize employee well-being and overall business performance in the workplace – which should be everyone,” He explained. Hoyle finds excitement working with clients and seeing the ergonomic improvements they are implementing. “On a personal note, one thing that I tell my clients is if I can make a difference in just one person’s life, prevent one disability, or return one person home to their loved ones, allowing him or her to lift up their kids or grandkids, my whole career is worth it,” said Hoyle. “I’m sure that I am biased, but to me, ergonomics is a powerful tool that helps optimize human and business performance, so the impacts are limitless.”

“I have the honor and privilege of doing what I love and earning a living doing it, so I feel truly blessed,” Hoyle reflected. “I’ve been able to learn from the BEST professionals that often are the BEST people, which have influenced my values and principles and helped me grow professionally and personally.” Hoyle feels empowered to be part of something bigger than one person, which serves a greater purpose and mission. “The pioneers in our field have made great strides in our profession, and there are some big shoes to fill in ergonomics,” said Hoyle. There is no doubt that Hoyle and the Center will continue to find other creative ways to take ergonomic innovations further.

The Young Investigator

Karen Chen, ISE assistant professor who specializes in human-systems, received the AEC Young Investigator Award. Chen uses virtual and augmented reality technologies to study human performances and enhance individuals’ health and safety. “The overarching goal of my research is to understand the behaviors, intents, capabilities, and limitations of humans, which will be achieved through simulated environments enabled by virtual and augmented reality,” she explained. This analysis gives a deeper understanding of how people work, which then helps researchers, designers and developers create better products that meet users’ needs. Ultimately this leads to improved health and safety in various work sectors. 

Julie Swann, ISE department head, nominated Chen for the award based on her unique ways of using her research to contribute to the field. “Dr. Chen takes her research all the way to application,” Swann explained. “She collaborates with The Ergonomics Center partners with local warehouses to assess the knowledge gain and impact of the AR-enabled training system.” Chen constantly partners with different organizations to adapt and improve her research. “Dr. Chen has demonstrated her creativity and ability in education as well,” Swann exclaimed. “She has developed material for STEM summer camps and has even been featured in a comic book as a science hero.” This outreach and her commitment to teaching the next generation of ergonomists will undoubtedly bolster the field. 

As with Hoyle, Chen’s work will affect a countless number of people. “Her work could impact how rehabilitation is performed for hundreds of thousands of patients recovering from injury or surgery,” Swann explained. “Her research also could improve worker safety for the countless number of workers in warehouses across the United States and the world.” Chen feels honored to receive the AEC Young Investigators Award. “I am grateful for all the support that I have received from colleagues, the department, and most importantly, the dedicated students in the lab,” she confided. 

Both Hoyle and Chen hope that their awards will help bring the ISE department and NC State University the recognition they deserve. It is the dedication of the entire team that has earned the Center its reputation with its members, clients and the ergonomics community at large. Like safety, success comes in a can: I can, you can, we can have success.