A few days ago, I had the opportunity to put on my clinical hat. When helping to take care of an injured worker, I asked her how the injury occurred. She told me that she was lifting a 200-pound part—yes, two hundred pounds—when she heard a pop in her lower back. She also told me that she lifts these parts all day long!
If you’re surprised at such a statement, don’t be. There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when I talk to employers and employees about the physical demands of virtually any job: employees overrate the physical requirements and employersunderrate them. In most cases, the problem is one of perception, not deception. The worker in the above example 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 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/or 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 demands can also assist after an injury. The evidence is convincing that it is possible and advantageous for the employer to allow the injured worker back on site performing 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 more lost workdays, more unnecessary costs to the employer, and an increasingly greater chance of the employee not coming back to work at all.
Now, 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 should be included in the description as well. 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 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 resource, managerial and safety personnel. Properly developed, they give information that aids in the hiring process and the management of work-related injuries. iBi