No matter what industry you’re in, you’ve likely heard or possibly even used the phrase, “Our employees are our greatest asset.” This is a great sentiment, but without strategies and programs in place to ensure those assets are set up for success, it merely becomes a feel-good notion.
Evidence-based injury prevention is innovative in that it is not widely used across all industries, despite the abundance of supporting data spanning more than two decades pointing toward its impact. When implemented correctly, an employee should be able to spend their entire career—from hire date to retirement—with an organization whose safety procedures boost the employee’s health, happiness and overall quality of life.
This article will look at how to achieve such a career for your employees.
Analyze Your Existing Positions
You first need to analyze your existing job descriptions by conducting a Physical Demands Analysis (PDA) and an Ergonomic Risk Assessment (ERA) for each position.
During the application process, candidates often see the phrase, “Must be able to lift X pounds throughout the work shift,” or, “Must be able to stand for extended periods of time.” Are those actual physical requirements of the job, or are they merely statements drawn from copying and pasting other organizations’ job listings?
To answer those questions—and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the hire-to-retire process should begin by conducting a PDA of every position.
Physical Demands Analysis (PDA)
A PDA is a process in which the physical requirements of the essential functions of the job are accurately and objectively quantified, resulting in a legally defensible document that includes:
• The manual material handling requirements of the job, i.e., what the employee will lift, carry, push/pull, as well as the duration, frequency and ranges/distances, etc.
• The positional tolerances or positions the employee will be in throughout the work shift, i.e., sitting, standing, walking, reaching, fine motor movements, ascending/descending ladders, etc.
• Environmental considerations such as working in hot, cold, wet or loud environments. Each of these aspects may either increase or decrease the physical demands of the job.
Benefits of the PDA include:
• Baseline data to determine effectiveness of future initiatives.
• Development of job rotations based on quantifiable data.
• Development of functional job groups for job enlargement.
• Development of ADA/EEOC-compliant, job-specific, post-offer employment testing for job candidates, as well as for fit-for-duty testing for existing employees to safely return to work after illness and/or injury.
• Development of best work practices, job coaching and training to minimize the potential for injury while also improving performance, productivity and quality.
• Development of reasonable accommodations when needed.
Ergonomic Risk Assessment (ERA)
While the PDA process is being conducted, an Ergonomic Risk Assessment (ERA) should be conducted simultaneously with the goal of:
• Identifying ergonomics-related risk factor(s) currently in the work environment/job process.
• Identifying the root cause(s) of the identified ergonomics-related risk factor(s).
• Developing recommendations/controls to eliminate or reduce the ergonomics-related risk factor(s) by addressing the identified root cause(s) of the risk factors.
The PDA and ERA should be performed simultaneously to pinpoint and address all ergonomic risk factors in order to decrease the physical demands of the job and the potential for injury. This will all contribute to a clearer image of the job for the candidate and a more accurate expectation of whether or not they’re capable of performing.
Update Job Descriptions
Once the PDA and ERA have been conducted and implemented, the existing job descriptions can now be updated to accurately reflect the physical demands of the job. The job descriptions have now become functional job descriptions, better informing the candidate of the true requirements of his or her potential role. Benefits of functional job descriptions include:
• More transparency of the job during the recruiting, screening and hiring processes.
• Objective return-to-work criteria if fit-for-duty testing will not be utilized.
• Development of job-specific training based on the physical requirements of the essential functions of the job.
Post-Offer Employment Testing
Post-offer employment testing can now be developed based on the PDA. This will come into play once the candidate has been offered the job contingent upon his or her ability to perform the physical requirements of the job. The PDA allows the employer to create simulated tasks to help determine whether or not the candidate indeed can perform the physical functions of the job.
This will also involve a musculoskeletal examination by a qualified professional to determine if the candidate has any pre-existing conditions that will warrant referral to a physician for medical clearance before the testing. Maybe the candidate recently underwent back surgery or had multiple sports-related injuries during high school. This process helps identify their capabilities and is non-discriminatory and ADA/EEOC-compliant.
On-Site Proactive Injury Prevention
So your candidate has been found capable of performing the physical requirements of the job and is now an employee. That must be it, right? Not quite.
In fact, research shows that most work-related injuries occur either within the first 3-6 months of the job or after the employee has been on the job for multiple years. Safety measures are an ongoing initiative. To set the employee up for hire-to-retire success, the boots-on-the-ground sustainability portion of the program kicks in.
By utilizing proactive injury prevention specialists with backgrounds in athletic training, physical and occupational therapy, exercise science and physiology, and more, this phase focuses on three leading indicators:
3. Early soreness.
By focusing on these three proactive/leading indicators (as compared to reactive/lagging indicators), the injury prevention specialists are able to reduce the potential for work-related injury by:
• Performing job-specific job coaching
• Performing non-recordable OSHA first aid
• Making changes to tools, equipment, processes, the work environment, etc.
This continued on-the-floor presence takes the place of the traditional model of waiting for the employee to get injured and then sending him or her to the clinic. This proactive and continual approach results in a reduction of at least 50% of work-related injuries and associated costs while also improving performance, productivity and quality. The employee is less absent, more satisfied with their work, and happier overall, which then leads to reduced job stress, burnout and decreased turnover.