A Publication of WTVP

I occasionally have the opportunity to put on my clinical hat and drive the rest of my staff crazy. One afternoon, when helping take care of an injured worker, I asked how the injury occurred. He told me that he was lifting a 341-pound box—yes, three hundred and forty-one pounds—when he felt a pop in his shoulder. He told me that he lifts these boxes all day! Call the Patriots…I hear they could use some help on Super Bowl Sundays.

If you’re surprised at such a statement, don’t be. An interesting phenomenon occurs when I talk to employers and employees about the physical demands of virtually any job: employees overrate the physical requirements and employers underrate them. In most cases, the problem is one of perception, not deception. The worker mentioned above was legitimately hurt, not by lifting the box, but rather by pushing it on a pallet jack.

There are a number of reasons for having accurate job descriptions that specify physical demands. When hiring for a particular position, it is legal for an employer to ask an applicant to review the physical demands and state if he or she can perform the required work. A physician can use the demands as a reference when conducting a pre-placement physical, and a therapist can develop a physically challenging test that determines whether a person can safely meet these demands. Post-offer, pre-employment screening is legal and can serve as a first step to preventing workplace injuries.

Accurate physical demand descriptions can also assist after an injury. The evidence is convincing that it is advantageous for the employer to allow the injured worker back on site to perform light or modified duty. However, many physicians will be extra-conservative in their approach if they are unsure what the worker will have to do. The result is additional lost workdays, more unnecessary costs and an increased chance of the employee not coming back to work at all.

Let’s go back to the perception issue for a minute. If there is difficulty getting accurate information about job descriptions from employer and employee alike, how does one get solid information? There are a couple of ways. One is to give the project to a group consisting of managers and other employees (e.g., the safety committee) and have them review the job demands as a group. In some cases, they might have to develop an initial list of demands before they actually review them. Surveys, observation, interviews and other tools can be used to refine the list to include items such as lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Weights and frequencies are also for the description. Once accurately outlined, it is important to put it in a user-friendly format, such as a table.

Many employers who have assigned this project to their employees found it is extremely useful, while others have found it overwhelming and frustrating. An alternative is contracting a third party to develop the physical demands for you. These specialists contract to come on site and observe the physical demands of jobs, collect a wealth of data and produce user-friendly job descriptions.

Job descriptions serve as a valuable tool for human resources, managerial and safety personnel. Properly developed, they give information that aids in the hiring process and the management of work-related injuries. iBi