Employment testing was initially implemented during World War II to maximize worker placement in appropriate jobs. Legislation and various advances in the field have since reshaped and improved the ability to match a prospective candidate’s physical abilities to job requirements and reduce the possibility of on-the-job injuries.
Likewise, employers wishing to retain valued aging employees can now use testing to objectively measure and match a worker’s physical abilities to essential duties. A variety of administrative, ergonomic or work design modifications may then be considered.
Controlling the incidence of work-related injuries is economically important for industry, but it’s far more important to the individual employee. Injury prevention begins with ADA-compliant and job-related pre-employment testing, followed by the implementation of enhanced safety measures.
A three-year controlled study conducted by G. Harbin and J. Olson and reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2005 concluded that physical testing that compares an individual’s physical abilities to the job requirements is a correlative factor to reducing work injury incidence. The application of appropriate post-offer, pre-placement testing is shown to be a cost-effective method to lower the incidence of work-related injuries.
ABILITYusa recently conducted a comparative study with a health care organization that operates numerous facilities in multiple geographic areas. Job-related physical employment testing is conducted for some of these facilities but not in all. The study compared the volume, type and costs associated with injuries in tested and non-tested individuals.
In addition to lower overall injury experiences within the facilities that test their employees, the study also found major differences in the cost per injury type. Injury volumes were markedly lower across the board with tested facilities. In addition, average costs per injury were lower in tested facilities. Costs for sprains and strains were 5.5 times greater in untested individuals than in tested individuals who demonstrated the physical ability to safely perform the duties essential to their position.
Even with slips, trips and falls—which some might say are just accidents—the average cost for treating the untested individual was twice as much as treating the tested individual. The implication here is that persons with better physical abilities and better balance are able to better minimize the severity of their tumble.
Bureau of Labor statistics projections indicate that by 2020, nearly 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will be age 55 years or older, and 28 percent of women and 35 percent of men ages 65 to 74 will still be working. Older employees, whether in management or various line positions, have knowledge, experience and skills that are tremendously valuable to any organization, and it’s worth giving them added protections from injury through employment testing and various other safety enhancement options. Some of the natural physical changes that impact safety may include loss of height, maximum strength, endurance, balance, reaction time, visual acuity, hearing and hand/eye/body coordination. Not all persons experience the same changes at a similar rate. However, if these performance issues are ignored, injury potential is certain. Employment testing provides an objective means of determining which essential duties an individual can safely perform.
Matching physical ability to essential duties involves job analysis to establish the appropriate components in the job-related employment testing. Job analysis is conducted by specialists in the fields of physical demand analysis, functional employment testing and ergonomics. Measurement and analysis includes assessing forces and weights, distances, sizes and shapes of materials handling, frequencies, coupling, stable versus unstable loads, awkward or static postures, vibration, contact stresses, temperature and environments.
Testing criteria for a given job is based on the job analysis and interviews of both individuals successfully performing the job and their supervisors. Testing results provide objective information for the hiring process, as well as for applicable actions and interventions within an ongoing safety program for all employees.
Injuries are prevented when using ADA compliant functional and job-related employment testing. Job analysis and testing data provides the objective information needed to enhance many parts of the safety program, including policies, procedures, training, injury prevention, identification of appropriate accommodations, modifications of duties and reassignments.
Karen Breckenridge, PT, MPH, CHE, is president of Santa Rosa-based ABILITYusa, an alliance for occupational fitness. Contact her at (800) 846-8006.
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