expert interviews May 05, 2021

One thing that you should know as an Ergonomics Consultant is that the more services you can offer your clients, the more opportunities you have to increase your revenue. The good news is that there are a bunch of services you can offer clients out there who need ergonomics assistance. For this reason, I invited yet another passionate ergonomics expert—Sandi Danilowitz for an interview. Sandi Danilowitz is an Ergonomic Consultant and Wellness Educator based in Toronto, Canada. Sandi is the founder and CEO of The Health Engine Inc., a Canadian-based wellness and productivity solution for organizations who understand that their people are their most important asset. In addition, she’s one of the founding members and still is a member of our Accelerate program.

An Interview with Sandi Danilowitz, Ergonomics & Wellness Consultant

I’m so thrilled to share with you my interview with Sandi because it’s very motivating. It's going to show you that aside from the typical office ergonomics assessments, there are a lot of different angles to how we can provide value to the organizations that we work with. Sandy is going to share with us the wide range of jobs and consulting positions that she's had in her career. 

I chatted with her and learned more about the different types of services that you could be offering your clients and what the future trends are for the industry. Read on to find out more about how she got started in ergonomics and her advice to those who are considering getting into ergonomics.

Here’s an excerpt from my exclusive interview with Sandi:

DJ: Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

SD:  I work as an Ergonomic Consultant, and I’ve been working as a self-employed consultant since 2003. I went to York University and studied Kinesiology and Health Sciences, and graduated with a Special Honours B.A. in Kinesiology. I was equivocating about whether or not to do the Bachelor of Science (BSc), and to be honest, the decision was made for me. 

“But I think that that was actually a blessing in disguise because having the art and the humanities side of it is definitely giving me a leg up in the field of ergonomics. Because although you're working to help people fit into their workplaces, a lot of it is more about understanding people and their needs.”

Ergonomics wasn't part of my program back in the day. I didn't even know about ergonomics really. When I graduated, I was like, “Well, what do I do now?” We moved to Australia and I worked for a startup fitness company there. I'd always been working in and around fitness as well. I did a lot of personal training and spinning, and had an awesome time. That time came to an end, I came back and was like, “What now?” So I got certified to do Functional Capacity Evaluations.

DJ: Great! So you got certified to do Functional Abilities Evaluations. What happened after that?

SD: I actually got to travel around Canada with my kit. It’s so interesting getting to meet people in all different types of situations, people who've been injured—mostly car accident victims, which was very educational to see what can happen to the human body as a result of trauma. I worked for the Independent Medical Evaluation Company. When someone is injured, the insurance companies need to know if their injuries are legitimate. Because if they're going to claim on insurance, it's obviously very expensive. They’re also done for companies who want to know what their employees are physically capable of and for job matching. Like, we need you to be able to lift 30 pounds from floor to shoulder five times an hour. And then the FAE will determine what that person's physical capacity is. But where I was working, it was basically to see whether the person was legitimate.

But I got bored of doing those. I can't remember how it happened, but I met someone who runs a small boutique company downtown. She gave me my start in ergonomics and I just jumped into the deep end. I didn't have a formalized training or education, and just cut my teeth in the field really. 

DJ: When you're thinking about ergonomics, what about it that really grabbed your attention?

SD: Well, I'm not one of those people who can sit at my desk all day. The constant change of scenery and meeting new people is what really appealed to me. So it’s just a really good fit. These are the things that I like to do. I like to be face-to-face, interact with people, move around, and see what other people do. I'm endlessly curious.

DJ:  For the people who may have not been able to experience Functional Abilities Evaluation, how does ergonomics compare to one of those types of tasks?

SD: That's a great question. So the thing with Functional Capacity or FAE is that if it's done well, there's no fingerprint from the assessor. It’s just data collection. So when you write up the report, although there are some questions that are asked, it has to be as objective as possible. I'm definitely empirically-minded and always look at what the data says. I love that. But it didn't work for me because I wanted to be able to inject myself into it and have some say. And working in the field of ergonomics, there is the opportunity for that. 

“Even though you’re presenting data, you're also understanding what the person needs. So it's beyond just the objective presentation of data, which is what FAEs are.” 

DJ: Let's shift back to ergonomics. Are there any memorable ergonomics assessments that you think the readers would love to know about?

SD: This one stands well because it’s one of the first ones that I did and it’s really funny. So I walked into his office and he was kneeling on his chair. He had it turned backwards, so he was kneeling overtop of the backrest to get to his computer. He was a jovial guy and joked around, so I actually thought that he was pranking me but he was in so much pain. For some reason, this was the way that he found comfortable or reasonable to work. I've seen a lot of really creative workstations and that was definitely the most creative. I recommended a sit-stand desk and that really helped him.

I also did a lot of industrial work. I worked for Coca-Cola, and that was really cool. There’s a lot of learning on the job and it’s always to do Physical Demand Analysis (PDA). You know you have to ask, “What is this way? What is that way?” And then measure what people are lifting from where to where. And it came as a surprise that the coke cases weighed more than the Diet Coke. I had to ask why and it’s because of the sugar content. So the cases of coke weighed a lot more.

DJ: Wow, that’s shocking. And  you're pulling in another type of service offering that we can provide: Physical Demands Analysis. This is something that takes hours, plus the reports.

SD: Yeah, exactly. Coming back to presenting data, you're really just objectively presenting and quantifying what the person does to the minuscule detail. So like how much wrist extension they’re doing, shoulder flexion, trunk rotation, pushing and pulling. You're just presenting it into a report and the company keeps it on file for let’s say there's an injury and the person has to take time off work, and then they need to come back. You might need to send that PDA to the physician so they can say, “Well, they have a back injury so they can't do this part of the job. But they could do the portion of the job where they're standing at a desk and doing the paperwork.”

DJ: And tying this into ergonomics, that's where you would come in as a job match. As someone who is well-versed in human capability, you would compare the physical demands of the job. That’s where ergonomics comes in, what kind of work accommodations you can do. Many companies already will need a Physical Demands Analysis sent to the Workers’ Compensation Board when someone gets injured. So it's almost better just to have them on file. 

SD: Yeah, absolutely. I think companies are obligated to keep them updated. I’m just working at an automotive plant now and that's one of the things that they're having to do—update all their PDAs because the jobs change.

DJ: So there’s so much opportunity for our services. You may start with a particular company just doing a Physical Demand Analysis, maybe you're doing Functional Abilities Evaluation, or doing an accommodation, or ergonomic adaptations to allow them to come back to work faster. That goes hand in hand.

SD: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's a range of services that we can offer and it's certainly in your best interest to diversify. And I should just say, I was certified with Arcon. Another company that does offer FAE is Matheson.

DJ: How has your opinion about ergonomics shifted during your career so far?

SD: Yeah, that's also a good question. I think when I was younger my ego was more delicate. I felt that I needed to prove myself like I'm the expert and I'm telling you what you need. And I've really changed the way I think now. I see my clients, they’re the experts in their bodies. I can certainly provide the education and the information but they’re the ones who know best. And I say that with a caveat because I know some companies don't want you to say, “Yeah. I'm going to recommend this or that,” because they have a budget. I think maybe in my early days, I would have said, “I'm recommending this” or “this is what you need to use.” So sort of coming from a more paternalistic approach. Now, I’m more collaborative.

“It's not about me, it's how I can serve the person in the best way and what they need. People are experts on themselves, they know.”

DJ: How would you recommend the current graduates or people in another field of healthcare who are considering a shift in their career to get started in ergonomics?

SD: I think that now the programs offer co-ops, which I think is brilliant because that really allows you to test the waters and see which domain of ergonomics would be the best fit. You might be the kind of person who prefers not much interaction with people or limited, then maybe do Functional Capacity Evaluations or Physical Demand Analysis. I would say try as many different things as you can. I think you’ll know when something lands more than others. Like for me for the FAE, I was like, “No, this is not a good fit.” Whereas doing ergo assessments, it's a nice hybrid. But just to circle back to answer your question, how do people get started? I think if your program offers co-op, then that's amazing because then that will give you that opportunity. I spent a lot of time calling companies just looking them up and saying, “I'm a grad. I'm looking for experience.” The one thing I've learned is you just have to try things. 

DJ: Where do you see the ergonomic industry is heading?

SD: Well, I think that the use of tools is becoming more ubiquitous. You know, talking about doing Physical Demand Analysis and all of these measurements of what the person’s quantifying and what the person is doing. Now, there's this technology where you can put electrodes onto the person and it'll do it for you. So I think that automation is definitely going to become more integrated. There's definitely this integration of technology and people. I think that's just going to keep going along that trend.

DJ: Wow. That’s a great way to think about the future. On that note, Sandi, I wanted to say thank you so much for hanging out. You really brought up some really interesting perspectives that I think are going to be so valuable with the other ways we can add value to the people that were only thinking about or ergonomics in a certain way. So, thank you for that.

SD: You’re welcome.

There you have it! Check out Sandi’s website and get in touch with her.

Discover how other Healthcare Professionals are building their ergonomics business by signing up to the waitlist for the Accelerate program.


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