Dr RS Bridger
I’m a researcher, consultant and teacher in Human Factors and Ergonomics. HFE is what I do and research is what I’m best at doing. Like many researchers, though, I really enjoy teaching and consulting work and have moved comfortably between the world of academia and industry throughout my career. For most of my career, I have straddled both worlds and I understand the trade-offs needed to apply good science to real world problems, while meeting high standards
I am Director of my own company, ‘Knowledge Sharing Events, Ltd’ and I help organisations and universities to develop their expertise and programmes in Human Factors and Ergonomics through practical problem solving. I offer commercial training courses and support safety investigations in health care.
What am I Working on These Days?
I’m currently supporting safety investigations in health care and serving my term as President of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors.
My background in biomechanics research and my training in psychology enable me to take a holistic view of people at work and understand the big picture – I keep my practitioner skills sharp by conducting ad-hoc risk assessments as required and from time to time, I act as an expert witness in civilian litigation.
I have a Ph.D in functional anatomy and biomechanics, an MSc in Ergonomics and a first degree in Psychology. My academic expertise is recognised in key areas of HFE including safety and accident investigation, occupational biomechanics, work stress and Human Factors Integration. I am regularly invited to review research papers for journals such as ‘Ergonomics’, International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics’, ‘Stress’ and ‘Occupational Medicine’. I can move comfortably between the worlds of psychology and Human Factors Engineering.
Early Academic Experiences
I started my academic career as a lecturer in ergonomics in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cape Town and ended as Principal Specialist Scientist. My role was to teach two modules in the postgraduate programme – Introduction to Ergonomics and Information Ergonomics and generate funding for research. The students were trainee biomedical engineers and paramedics wishing to specialise in ergonomics. I obtained funding from the financial services sector, the Department of Manpower and local research funding agencies for a number of laboratory and field-based research projects. During that time, I worked closely with engineers in different fields and learnt to communicate and collaborate in an engineering environment I obtained funding to support two Ph.D students, both of whom were successful and I am a founder member of the Ergonomics Society of South Africa (1985). One of the highlights of my career at UCT was the publication of my textbook, Introduction to Ergonomics (McGraw-Hill 1995). This book has proved to be successful and I continue to update my early experiences by bringing out new editions. The third edition has sold over 13,000 copies and been translated into Chinese. I completed the fourth English edition, which appeared in 2018. The book has a strong focus on core science principles and how these are linked to practical problem solving skills that engineers and designers need. The new edition embeds Human Factors into systems engineering much more explicitly so that students will understand how Human Factors fits in to the big picture when complex systems are designed and managed.
The Mining Industry
Prior to UCT, I worked as an ergonomist in the mining branch of the Chamber of Mines Research organisation in Johannesburg. My role was to conduct operational and usability analyses of prototype mining machines located in experimental stopes in commercial gold mines. I assessed control-device layouts, operating procedures and operability of the machines and made recommendations for design improvements. I also conducted simple task analyses of the operation to identify the scope for and barriers to improved productivity. During this time, I was given my own project to work on – comparisons of the penetration rates and noise generated by prototype hydraulic versus pneumatic rock-drills. This research was conducted initially, on an experimental test rig on the surface and then in a mined-out stope underground. The hydraulic drills had faster penetration and produced less noise, but there promise to improve working conditions and productivity was tempered by low reliability when running on very dilute emulsion. This was my first experience of working in a high risk industry and my first exposure to safety management. My line manager and colleagues were all miners or ex miners – I learnt how to function as the only ergonomist in the team and how to communicate effectively.
Financial Services Sector
From 1988 onwards, I worked with large organisations, typically advising on office design, investigating and solving problems and advising on furniture selection and layout. More recently, I have widened my services to include psychological stress assessment, with a focus on how the design of the physical environment influences employee well-being.
The Defence Industry
From 1999 to 2017, I was head of the Human Factors Department at the Royal Navy’s Institute of Naval Medicine in the United Kingdom embedded in a programme management role. One of the most important lessons I learnt was how to manage a department, how to plan and to budget and how to look after, motivate and mentor junior staff. My role required me to apply HF across domains in the Naval Service and in defence procurement. I have many years experience advising project teams on a variety of projects and my department is now a major player in the HFI and HF testing. I have extensive experience of communicating HF requirements to customers and I regularly attended the Naval Engineering HFI Liaison Group, where I recently presented our new HF Accident Guide. I was a member fo the team that updarted MoD’s policy on Human Factors Integration (JSP 916). I have proven strengths in adding clarity to ill-defined problems by identifying the key knowledge domains at the heart of the problem and the principles for risk reduction. I published over 80 official reports and over 70 papers in peer-reviewed journals and have supervised over 10 MSc students and 4 Ph.Ds. I am interested in working in high risk industries, areas such as aviation where I can develop and apply new skills.
In this role, I managed staff with backgrounds in ergonomics and psychology. I became particularly concerned, some years ago, at the poor quality of much psychological research in Defence, particularly attitude and opinion surveys. I made clear the limitations of this approach, the lack of validation against business outcomes (‘construct validity’) the lack of proper psychometric development of the instruments and anonymity which makes it impossible to link the constructs measured to any hard outcome. I persuaded senior management that that the best way to investigate occupational stress in the Naval service was by means of a longitudinal study of a representative cohort using non-anonymous personnel. In this way, the chronicity of strain could be determined and its link to hard outcomes, such as retention. This study has yielded many useful reports as well as spin-offs, acting as it does, as a small health and lifestyle survey. As Chief Investigator, I trained my team and am supporting them in developing the exploitation pathways. So, by explaining to stakeholders why change was necessary, I was able to win approval for and take the lead on a 5-year programme of research that has provided the answers and is now producing the tools and the means to exploit them effectively.
I used a formal management system to deliver at the pace required by the project, which varied from 5-years, to a couple of days for a risk assessment of a workstation. Our tasking documentation aimed to de-risk projects by making explicit the deadlines, milestones, dates associated with milestones, outputs, constraints and dependencies of any project (and the resource requirements). In this way, we tracked progress against a defined timeline and take action, as required. When timely outputs are required, we respond by letter, although the standard output is the INM Report. The Institute is a Centre of Excellence in Occupational Health therefore external peer-reviewed publication is supported. This work cannot be allowed to impinge on delivery to customers, but it is valued nonetheless. My policy was to encourage staff to use their time effectively working on research articles in their own time if necessary on the understanding that success will be rewarded with a recommendation for a special bonus award. I also use the merit awards and other incentives to reward delivery, thereby inculcating a more entrepreneurial culture.
My career at INM had several highlights in the area of safety. In 2016, I led the Human Factors team that supported a service inquiry into a serious incident involving one of our nuclear submarines. Later, I served as a member of a Fleet Commander’s Safety Investigation into an incident where an engineer was electrocuted in the mid-atlantic. I supported a safety investigation into an incident where a helicopter crashed onto the deck of a ship at sea.
In the last few years, I have collaborated with the Royal Norwegian Navy and the University of Bergen, by co-supervising a Ph.D on the automation of bridges on fast patrol craft. I examined a Ph.D at the Department of Maritime Studies and Shipping at Chalmers University in Sweden.
Research Governance and Ethics Experience
From 2006-2017 I was a member of the Royal Navy’s Scientific Advisory Committee, conducting critical, but constructive, reviews of over 500 research protocols in areas ranging from thermoregulatory physiology and biomechanics to qualitative research.
Professional Affiliations and Achievements
I am a Fellow, Council member and President of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors and from 2013-2016 served a 3-year terms as Honorary General Treasurer My success in this role is evidenced by my decision to review the Institute’s contractual agreements with the publishers of the journals ‘Ergonomics’ and ‘Applied Ergonomics’. Finding that the contracts had not been reviewed since 1957 and 1984 respectively, I worked with the Institute’s Chief Executive to renegotiate the contracts resulting in an increase in royalty of 1.5% for Ergonomics and 12.15% for Applied Ergonomics – delivering a net doubling of royalty income by 2016.
I am on the editorial board of several journals and from time to time I examine postgraduate theses for universities.
Expert Witness and Investigative Services
Trained as an expert witness at the Academy of Experts, Gray’s Inn, London, I specialise in musculoskeletal injury claims and have acted as an expert witness for HM Treasury Solicitors (now ‘Government Legal’.
I also have extensive expertise in occupational stress risk assessment and Human Factors in Accident Investigation and am currently supporting a safety investigation on behalf of the National Health Services Health Safety Investigation Branch.