Our History

March 1983

Preliminary meetings held at Human Resources Research Laboratory Chamber of Mines, Johannesburg 14th March, 1983 to discuss the path forward for Ergonomics in South Africa.

Attendees included: Tony Golding, Brian Hill, A J Kielblock, Retief Kok and Glyn Pickering.  Very little happened during the ensuing year and this and other interested groups appeared to do their own thing.

February 1984

First principal meeting setting up a study group to address the feasibility of an Ergonomics Society in South Africa was held at the Design Institute, SABS, Pretoria 24th February, 1984.

More than 30 participants gathered to nominate a Study Group (volunteers and press ganged members) comprising a broad spectrum of expertise from educational institutions, government bodies and industry.

The Study Group: Bob Bridger, Phil Fraser, Tony Golding, Brian Hill, George Jaros, Johnny Johnston, Ennio Macagnano, Geoff Meese, Pieter Nel, Jan van Tonder and Don Wright. Mike Cooke joined later to prepare a viable Constitution. Jack Charteris and Pat Scott joined.

Brian Hill of the Design Institute volunteered to act as Secretariat.

February 1985

The Ergonomics Society of Southern Africa was formally inaugurated 5th and 6th February, 1985 at the First Conference “Ergonomics ’85”, was held in the CSIR Conference Centre, Pretoria. The keynote speaker was Stuart Kirk, and Mike Cooke presented the inaugural speech. More than 40 papers were presented to over 100 delegates. An encouraging official start.

During the conference a General Meeting was held and a First Council was ratified. Office Bearers and Committee Members were elected.

Chairman: Tony Golding
Vice Chairman: Jan van Tonder
Secretary: Brian Hill
Treasurer: Geoff Meese
Committee: Bob Bridger/George Jaros (alternate)
Jack Charteris
James Fisher
Graham Kinsey
Ennio Macagnano
Pieter Nel
Reinette Nel/Mike de Ruig (alternate)
O A Tenikalp

Secretariat: Design Institute, SABS

April 1986

A second conference “esa ’86” was held 14 and 15 April 1986 at Postgraduate Medical Centre, University of Cape Town.

Delegates numbered about 30 and just under 40 papers were presented.

The AGM saw very little change in the Council although OA Tenikalp departed and more importantly Daan Page, Pat Scott and Don Wright were elected as Committee Members.

May 1987

A third conference “ergonomics SA ’87” was held 12th and 13th May 1987, once again back at the CSIR Conference Centre, Pretoria. The theme unlike the previous very broad spectrum of events focused more specially on Consumer Ergonomics with the presentation by Paul Moss, Hoover plc, as Keynote Speaker. Over 30 papers were presented to about 40 delegates.

The Council remained the same, however with severe “winds of change” occurring at the Design Institute, the Secretariat changed to James Fisher’s Division of Industrial Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand.

December 1988

Disappointingly no conference this time, although a symposium “Aspects of Work Stress” was held 2nd December 1988 under the auspices of James Fisher’s Secretariat. 10 papers were presented to about 30 delegates.

May 1989

A fourth conference “ergos ’98” was held 2nd and 3rd May 1989 at Senate House, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where 23 papers were presented. The number of delegates attending was low. Keynote Speaker: W B Rouse, Search Technology, Georgia, USA.

1988 – 1989

The Secretary/Treasurer during this period became an interspersed responsibility between James Fisher and Brian Hill.

1990 – 1994

Impact of the Society diminished over this period with many of the original Council Members having moved away or on for various reasons.

Tony Golding, Brian Hill, Geoff Parr and Glyn Pickering jointly shared the Secretary and Treasurer functions and the Secretariat moved to National Institute for Personnel Research, HSRC, Johannesburg. Membership reduced dramatically to about 20.

Regular submissions were made to this body over the period of 10 years, the last in 1994 was eventually successful with the onset of our new South Africa and the continuous issue of ‘Southern’ Africa was changed and the Ergonomics Society of South Africa (ESSA) was formed and duly accepted as a Federated Society.

1994 – 1996

The Fifth Conference “esa ’94” was held in Grahamstown where Hal Hendrick then President of the IEA was the Key Speaker. Attendance was poor and membership low. Jack Charteris took over as Chairperson, Pat Scott as secretary and Theo de Koker as the Treasurer. Johan Hendrikse and Coen Calitz were Council Members.

Pat Scott was the first official SA representative at the joint IEA/South American Conference in Rio de Janeiro.

1996 – 1998

Membership was growing, Houshang Shahnavaz and Pat Scott ran five successful Roving Seminars on the ‘Ergonomic Checkpoints’ and the sixth conference “esa ’96” was run in conjunction with Noshcon ’96 at the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg. J Nkurlu the ILO representative in Zimbabwe was the Keynote Speaker.

The Council Members remained the same.

1999 – 2001

Membership continued to grow during this period.  Pat Scott (ESSA Chairperson) was elected to the IEA Executive Council and as IDC Chairperson.  Pat worked hard on the promotion of Ergonomics in IDCs.  She ably represented ESSA at various events, including the IEA 2000 Congress in San Diego, California.

The 8th ESSA Biennial Meeting held at Wits in Johannesburg marked a change in Committee members as Schu Schutte (CSIR Miningtek) took over as Chair.  Scott MacKinnon, the Secretary Treasurer during the 1999-2001 period returned to Canada and was replaced by Jon James (Rhodes University).  The regional structure saw Karen Jacka and Simeon Davies elected as Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal representatives.


2002 – 2020

ESSA has grown considerably over the last 2 decades and has driven the need, and importance, for Ergonomics in South Africa. During this time, ESSA has hosted annual conferences and in 2019 hosted its 14th annual conference. ESSA has also built strategic partnerships, which includes the Department of Labour, now the Department of Employment of Labour as well as Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS).

ATNS and ESSA have hosted joint conferences over the years in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. ESSA is also a key driver and role-player in ErgoAfrica, and is a representative in the BRICSplus network.  Much work has gone into promoting ergonomics in Industrially Developing Countries (IDCs), with the International Ergonomics Association establishing an Industrial Development Committee Chair as part of its Executive. A significant contributor to this has been due to Andrew Todd who has championed for this important role, and has as such created a keen world interest in ergonomics work in IDCs. Andrew serves as the IDC Chair on the IEA Executive. ESSA continues to be successful due to the work of its committee members who are all volunteers and work full time in either industry or academia. ESSA continues its close ties with Rhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. A major development at the end of 2019 was the promulgation of the Ergonomics Regulations by the Department of Employment and Labour. This is a significant moment in our history as it is the first time ergonomics has been regulated in South Africa. This will ensure that employees and workplaces are safe, healthy and comfortable, thereby minimising the risk for injuries and harm in the workplace. We look forward to the next decade and growing our Society in South Africa.