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Department of Integrated Systems Engineering

Master's Program in Industrial & Systems Engineering Specializing in Occupational Safety and Ergonomics

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Basic Facts Program Background Program Plan Program Admission
Financial Support What our Graduates Do
More Information

Traineeship awards of financial support are available for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years:  these provide tuition assistance + monthly stipend. 

Basic Facts

If you are interested in obtaining a masters degree in industrial engineering, and you are interested in occupational safety and ergonomics, this program will be of interest to you.  Through this program students study, conduct research, and gain work experience in occupational safety and ergonomics.  A limited number of full-time students will also receive financial assistance ("traineeships") through a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Our graduates have careers as safety engineers, industrial engineers, human systems integration specialists, software analysts, and human factors engineers.  They work for design firms and the US Navy; they work in the home health care industry, aerospace research, heavy industry, brewing, and financial services.

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.

2.  Background History

Ohio State University is an ideal place to prepare engineers to work in the area of safety and ergonomics.  Ohio State University is one of the top 10 research universities in the country, based on rankings posted by the National Science Foundation in 2007.  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 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 from ISE, 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 the 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 offering 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). 
3.  The Need for Graduate Studies in Ergonomics and Safety

In 2013 there were a reported 3 million worker injuries and illnesses in private-sector workplaces in the US, and another 800,000 among state and local employees (ALF-CIO annual report).  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 there were 917,090 cases of nonfatal, lost time occupational injuries and illnesses that occurred to employees in private industry.  For 2012, Liberty Mutual reported that total cost burden of disabling work-related injuries was estimated to be $71 billion dollars. In our state, in 2014, lost wages paid from the workers compensation system totaled almost $15 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 with 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. 
Program Plan

This program is designed to satisfy the MS Program Requirements of OSU's Department of Integrated Systems Engineering, as well as meet the needs of engineers who wish to assume responsibilities in occupational safety and ergonomics.  The department’s requirements for Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) students seeking a master’s degree via the thesis program include a minimum of 30 semester hours, including at least 22 hours of course work and 4 hours of thesis research credit.  The course work consists of a depth requirement (6 semester credits minimum), a breadth requirement of at least three credit hours from another area within ISE, 3 semester credit hours of graduate level course work focused on mathematical, statistical, or numerical methodologies, and 2 semester credit hours of ISE Graduate Research Seminar, and elective course work.  An oral defense of the thesis is also required.  There is a non-thesis program, as well, but almost all of our students complete a thesis.  

The program for the NIOSH-supported students includes required courses in occupational biomechanics, cognitive engineering, occupational health, industrial accident prevention and control, human error and systems failure, a research practicum, and an applied practicum (Table A).  Working closely with the faculty, the research practicum provides students with the opportunity to work as a member of a group to identify a novel research topic, design an investigational protocol, write an application to the Institutional Review Board and secure its approval of the protocol, conduct the experiment, analyze the data, and write up the study in a paper that is submitted to a peer-reviewed conference or journal.  The applied practicum gives students the opportunity to apply knowledge from coursework to a real-world problem.  Projects may come through the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, or through our advisory board members, former trainees, other local industry contacts, or other sources.

Table A.  Required courses in Occupational Safety & Ergonomics (this set of courses fulfills the ISE depth requirement) :
ISE 5600 - Principles of Occupational Biomechanics and Industrial Ergonomics (UG3)
ISE 5700 - Cognitive Engineering (G3)
ISE 5640-  Occupational Safety: Analysis and Design of Work Environments (UG3)
Chem-BioE 5755 Chemical Process Safety (UG3)
ISE 7610 - Advanced Topics in Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Disorders: Spine biomechanics (G4)           
ISE 7620 - Advanced Topics in Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Disorders: Upper extremity biomechanics (G3)
ISE 7615 - Biomechanics Research Practicum: Experience in spine biomechanics  (G3)                   
ISE 7625 - Biomechanics Research Practicum: Experience in upper extremity biomechanics (G3)
ISE 5710 – Behind Human Error: Safety and Complex Systems (UG3)        
ISE 5870 – Resilience Engineering (UG3)
PUBH-EHS 5325 – Principles of Occupational Health Science (G4)
ISE 6193 – as Safety & Ergonomics Practicum (UG3), after all other courses are taken or during last graduate semester

Students are also required to take a course in experimental design.  Additionally, seminars given by local experts (academics and practitioners) covering selected topics in their areas of expertise are also part of the curriculum.  These include experts in system safety and risk management, epidemiology and injuries of children in farm families, industrial safety, and hospital safety.  Additionally, students can avail themselves of continuing education courses offered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, to gain exposure to topics that are not covered in courses here at OSU.  All of these provide additional opportunities for the students to meet and interact with local safety and health professionals. 

Elective courses are offered in a variety of areas, to match a student’s particular area of interest.  These include civil engineering, mechanical engineering, epidemiology, and environmental health.  A list of elective courses appears in Table B.

Table B.  Elective courses (choose a minimum of 1 course) (≥ 3 hrs):
CIVIL EN 5810 – Construction Safety & Forensics (UG3)
ISE 5820 - Systems Thinking in Engineering and Design (UG3)
ISE 5620 - Risk Assessment Tools for Occupational Musculoskeletal Disorders (UG3)            
ISE 7720  - Cognitive Systems Engineering: Models and Methods (G3)
ME 5716 – Probabilistic Reliability and Safety Assessment (UG3)  (cross-listed with Nuclear Eng.)
PUBH-EHS 7365 – Principles of Risk Assessment (G3)
PUBH-EHS 7330 – Principles of Exposure Assessment (G3)
PUBH-EHS 6310 – Principles of Environmental Health (G3)
PUBH-EPI 6410 – Principles of Epidemiology (G3)
PUBH-EPI 6430 - Epidemiology I  (G3)
PUBH-EPI 6432 – Injury Epidemiology (G3)

A sample schedule is provided in Table C, below.  Students who receive traineeships through this program, in order to qualify for tuition support, must register for 12 graduate credit hours each semester they are enrolled.  ISE 6193 is used to provide students registered time to obtain training in responsible research practices and become involved in ongoing faculty research.  Table C provides a sample schedule for someone interested in electives in environmental health science (students with this interest may consider pursuing a dual MS/MPH degree program in ISE and EHS).   Each student's study plan will reflect his or her interests and goals.  In the summer of their first year, students will either be involved in research or have an internship. 

sample semester schedule

Program Admission

Applications are most commonly accepted from individuals with undergraduate degrees in engineering or in the behavioral, biological, physical, or safety sciences. Some preparation in mathematics (calculus & matrix/linear algebra) is desired, in addition to physical science, statics, statistics, engineering psychology and/or physiology.  Students who are lacking in mathematics preparation can find calculus courses covering key topics of derivatives, integration, and vectors taught at their undergraduate institution or at many community colleges.  

The Graduate Record Exam is required of all applicants to Ohio State’s Integrated Systems Engneering Department.  OSU’s Graduate School requires a minimum GPA of 3.0/4.0 (B) in all prior undergraduate and graduate level work for regular admission.  Our Department gives admission preference to engineering and science graduates with an overall undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.2/4.0.  Applicants may be denied admission for any of the following reasons: new GRE scores below 166 Q, 153 V or 4.5 A or total prior GRE aptitude score (verbal plus quantitative) less than 1200, verbal GRE score less than 400, analytical GRE score less than 600, TOEFL paper-based test score of less than 550, or a TOEFL computer-based test score of less than 213, or a TOEFL iBT test score of less than 79.  Please refer to the OSU Graduate School Handbook for specific admission criteria and admission credentials.

Based on availability of funds, traineeships (financial support similar to a fellowship) will be offered to applicants who meet the departmental requirements for admission, who have a specific interest in occupational safety and ergonomics, who are willing to meet the requirements of the traineeship, and who interview satisfactorily with the primary program faculty members.  Interviews will be conducted over the phone if applicants cannot visit the campus.

U.S. residency is a requirement to be considered for financial support through a "traineeship".  Other forms of support may be available to applicants who do not meet this requirement.

Women and individuals from other groups that are underrepresented in the areas of safety and engineering are strongly encouraged to apply. 

BS/MS and dual MS degree programs (such as an MS ISE & MS ME, or an MS ISE & MPH-EHS) can be designed and supported.
Financial Support

A limited number of traineeships are available to full-time students, at the masters level of study.  Traineeships provide a 9 month stipend during the academic year and tuition assistance for Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters.  U.S. residency restrictions apply to traineeships; however, other forms of support may be available for those who do no meet these restrictions.

What our Graduates Do

Where do our graduates go and what do they do?  There is great diversity in this!   Examples include:

More Information

If you would like to know more about this master's degree program, please email Dr. Carolyn Sommerich at sommerich.1@osu.edu, or call 614-292-9965.

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Affiliations and related information...

Spine Research Institute
Center for Occupational Health in Automotive Manufacturing (COHAM)
Cognitive Systems Engineering Laboratory (C/E/S/L)
Distribution Ergonomics Research Center (DERC)
Orthopaedic Ergonomics Laboratory

Engineering Laboratory for Human Factors/Ergonomics/Safety
Department of Integrated Systems Engineering
OSU's Graduate School


Page updated August 2016