This Job Description May No Longer Be Current

This morning, I happened to see a web link that caught my eye in my Google news feed on my phone. When I opened the page, I saw a box just below the articles byline that contained the following:

This article was published more than 3 years ago. Some information may no longer be current.

This is something that we need to think about in terms of job descriptions as well. Many employers do not put a created or a revised date on their job descriptions. They really should. The created/revised stamp helps to remind those who use the description as to what may have been going on when the description was created or what events may have caused the revision of the job description. Without the note, it is difficult to tell when the description has been updated.

Why is it important to know when the job description has been created or revised?

A creation or revision date can help let treating medical professionals (doctors, physical therapists, nurse case managers, etc.) know whether they need to ask if there have been any changes to the job description that need to be taken into account when planning treatments to return an injured employee back to full duty. Accurate, up to date job descriptions also help with completing the return to work process when a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is performed. The dates help to make sure that the most up to date version has been sent to the FCE provider for comparison. Note: This happens more frequently than it should – an outdated version is sent to the FCE provider and then the updated copy is sent for a new comparison against the FCE performance of the injured employee.

Why should you update your job descriptions?

It is a good habit to review your job descriptions annually to determine whether there have been any changes to the particular description in terms of roles and responsibilities for the job title as well as whether there are any changes in the policies, procedures, and real world processes of how the job is performed.

  • Do all of the roles and responsibilities of the job description still apply?
    • Have any roles and responsibilities been added to the job title?
    • Have any roles and responsibilities been removed from the job title?
  • Are the job tasks still performed in the same manner?
    • Has the equipment that is used to perform the job been changed?
      • Has updating equipment made the task simpler?
      • Do equipment updates change a task from a 2 person task to a 1 person task?
    • Are supplies for a task shipped differently?
      • Do they come in a different type of container?
      • Do they come in a different weight or volume of product?
  • Have there been changes to PPE required to perform a task?

How has COVID changed task performance?

One of the questions that I now routinely ask is “How are things different in how you do your job since the pandemic?” I have heard a variety of answers in response to this question in terms of changes in tasking, task timing (more frequent cleanings of communal surfaces for custodial staff), and changes in task performance. Within public works departments, some bulk trash pickup teams now utilize heavy equipment to lift certain pieces of trash (furniture in particular) into the trucks. While this change started in the early days when there were many unknowns about how COVID was transmitted, it helped to reduce some of the significantly heavier physical demands on these employees.

For warehousing staff at large retailers, shipping difficulties have led to changes in both tasking and how tasks are performed. I’ve talked with warehouse staff that now perform other duties on days that shipments are not received and on the days that shipments come in, often work at a much quicker pace due to the influx of arriving merchandise on those days.

The pandemic has brought changes to how companies operate that should make them take a moment to review their job descriptions and see if the descriptions still match how the tasks are performed.

What do we do if something has changed?

Update the changes in your job description. Once you have updated the description, make sure that you have included a revision date either in the text of the document or in the footer.

If there have been significant changes to the description that potentially alter the physical and postural demands of the position (or if you haven’t previously documented these demands), we can help you to accurately and objectively document the physical and postural demands. As mentioned above, well documented demands can help physicians and physical therapists in their task of helping to rehab an injured worker so that they can safely return to work.

Dictionary of Occupational Titles versus Rodeo Clown

They are rodeo clowns but the DOT calls them rodeo performers. However, these two clowns aren’t the same. The one in the barrel is a barrelman while the clown to the right is a bullfighter.

What Do the DOT and O*Net Tell Us About Job Demands

We’ve mentioned that when an FCE is performed and the provided job description does not outline essential minimum physical or postural demands that the evaluating therapist must use the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to determine a work level category for comparison.  The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) was a publication of the United States Department of Labor and contained information on over 13,000 job titles.  The DOT provides a basic list of task functions that may be performed within a job title as well as placing each job title entry into a work level category (sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy).  The last version of the DOT was published in 1999.  For most purposes, the DOT was replaced by O*NET (Occupational Information Network) which provides information collected by incumbent employees and uses a different method for grouping and defining job titles.  One important difference – and the main reason that FCE providers refer to the DOT today – is that O*NET does not include a physical work level category for each job title. 

What Does The DOT Tell Us About Rodeo Clowns?

All too often, job titles in the DOT get lumped into a closest possible job title instead of a singular, job specific title.  In many ways, this dictionary is like a thesaurus when it comes to finding a specific job entry to use as a reference.  Due to the fact that a wide range of applicable job titles may all fall under one specific entry, the information is not always as applicable as we would like it to be.  Sometimes, it gets the main theme of the job but the demands may be off – or in other cases, the listed physical demand is more of an average of the possible demands.

Not too long ago, I went to a Cowtown Rodeo in southern New Jersey and was wondering how the Dictionary of Occupational Titles would define the demands for a rodeo clown.  Rodeo clowns fill a unique role within the world of rodeo.  At first glance, they seem to be for entertainment and they do fill that role.  However, one type of rodeo clown – the barrelmen – provides the comic relief while the other type of rodeo clown – the bullfighters – help to keep the riders safe when they have fallen off of a bull or a bronco.  From observation, it appears that rodeo clowns have to be fast, be agile, have good balance, and an ability to climb fences at times to get out of the way of a bull or bronco.  They don’t appear to have the heavy lifting demands of rodeo performers involved in calf roping which requires the ability to pick up a calf and put them back on the ground.

A Google search of rodeo clown and Dictionary of Occupational Titles leads to an entry for rodeo performer (after a little digging).    The entry explains the position of rodeo performer as:

“Demonstrates daring and skill by bronco riding, calf roping, bull riding, steer wrestling, or similar feats in rodeo competition to entertain spectators and compete for prize money.”

It really only covers the rodeo clown in the entertaining spectators portion as the rodeo clowns don’t perform the other tasks listed.  And the entry for clown in the DOT does not really seem to cover what a rodeo clown does, other than:

“Dresses in comical costume and makeup and performs original or stock comedy routines to entertain audience.”

There is a huge variation in the physical demands between the two entries.  The clown entry places the physical demand as light (20 pounds occasional, 10 pounds frequent, negligible constant) while the rodeo performer entry places the demand at heavy (100 pounds occasional, 50 pounds frequent, 20 pounds constant)

Once could argue that the rodeo clown fits closer to the rodeo performer description at heavy as they may have to help an injured rider up from the ground but DOT entries don’t do a good job of explaining the balance required or describing the surface that the rodeo clowns perform on (a dirt surface that has been churned up by the hooves of horses and cattle) or the need to be able to move quickly out of a need for safety for themselves and others.  However, the entry doesn’t explain to a person that hasn’t seen a rodeo clown in action that they may have to sprint to the edge of the arena and quickly climb the fence that separates the audience from the arena to get to safety.  Alternatively, the entry for rodeo performer is a little on the light side for use with rodeo riders that perform calf roping – a calf in a competition can weigh between 220 and 280 pounds per competition rules. Being that the roper is trying to get the calf roped, secure, and immobilized they are more likely than not to exceed 100 pounds of force in pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying.

Rodeo clown runs away (quickly) from a bull.


Ideally, a job description for a job title when being used for comparison during an FCE will include information about the physical demands (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying and the heights and manners that these tasks are performed) as well as the postural demands (balance, walking, kneeling, squatting, reaching, etc. and how they are performed/where they are performed).  Rodeo clowns definitely walk (and run) on uneven terrain that sometimes may be wet or muddy and is definitely slippery – balance and speed of movement for safety is definitely important.  Some rodeo performers need to have enough balance to stand on a horse while going around the arena at speed. Their climbing needs are not the usual climbing needs for your standard party or circus clown.  As a matter of fact, most jobs don’t require you to climb a 6 to 8 foot fence to escape from a rampaging bull.

A rodeo performer demonstrates significant balance while flying the flag. This is not your every day balance related work task.

Upcoming

In upcoming posts, we will take a look at other job titles to see how well the Dictionary of Occupational Titles matches up against the actual demands of the job. Posts will look at nursing, skilled trades, and many other jobs including a comparison for the personnel that work in Weights and Measures. Some positions, such as nursing, present many of the same issues outlined in this post. The entry for nurse in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles lumps almost all of the varied roles that nurses perform into one singular entry – however, some occupations such as police and fire have breakdowns of the different internal roles. We will visit each of these and look at the impacts that these entries may have on performance of an FCE.

Quick notes: All images in this post are owned by Quin Bond. Usage is available upon request.

The Devil Is In The Details

Yesterday, I had pulled a job description that had been provided to us for a Functional Capacity Evaluation to use as a resource during a discussion with a client as they sought to understand the dynamics of a particular job position within the security field. As I reviewed the description, I remembered that despite the description’s length and detail level, the description had some significant issues when it came to the issue of lifting and carrying.

Hidden Information On What May Be Carried


One piece of information that needs to be kept in mind is a small quote embedded in description box located two pages prior to the physical demands. The box that can be easily missed states: “Personal gear per individual carried routinely is about 28 pounds and may need to climb towers as high as 60 feet with about 21 pounds of gear (rifles are normally staged for towers).” A box just below that indicates that this gear includes weapons, binoculars and/or night vision equipment, special purposed detectors, ballistic helmet, ballistic vest, ammunition, flashlight, and other small items.

One of the issues is not the fact that the two tables don’t match due to the “21-24 pounds” in the carry section versus “11-24 pounds” in the lift section. That is a typo that can be easily clarified through a quick call to the employer (note to FCE providers: never be afraid to call the case manager to ask to reach out the employer for clarification of demands – even for typos.)

There are three issues in regards to the carrying and lifting tables within the job description:

Issues With Carrying

The first issue is that the carry demand is not clearly defined. As noted above, there is a small box that denotes “personal gear individually carried routinely is about 28 pounds”. Those items in the list are not carried in the traditional sense of a bimanual or unilateral carry. The items listed in that box are items that are either worn directly on the body (ballistic helmet, ballistic vest, handgun in a holster, etc.) or items that would be carried in pouches or attached to their belt or vest (ammunition, flashlight, radio, etc.).

That knowledge helps to potentially explain the 12 hours per day of carrying 25-34 pounds in the above table but the table does not include an explanation that would indicate that this is the case. It does not help to explain any of the values greater or less than that specific range. Loaded rifles typically weight below 10 pounds (as do radios, binoculars, night vision optics, sensors, and many other items) yet the 10 pounds and under range is marked as “NA” or not applicable.

The 35-50 pound range and the 51-74 pound range have less frequent demands but it is difficult to determine whether those categories are inclusive of the 28 pounds of gear carried on the security officer or those are different items that are to be carried in some manner.

The carrying section should include more descriptive information to inform the reader as to what is being carried as well as the object’s weight and the manner in which it is carried (with two hands, with one hand, or worn/attached to the body).

Issues With Lifting

The lifting section brings its own issues – partially due to the ambiguity of the section defining the carry demands as well as ambiguity within the lifting section.

A quick look at the lifting demands indicates occasional lifting within the 11-24 pound and 25-34 pound ranges with no lifting demands above 34 pounds. There are no lifting demands above 34 pounds yet the carrying section indicates carrying loads up to 74 pounds. Typically, in order to carry an object that object must first be lifted – unless it is being directly loaded onto a person by someone else (such as lifting a backpack for another individual to don).

As with the carrying section, the lifting section does not provide any definitions, beyond weight ranges, of what the security officer actually lifts during the performance of their job role. While the section we discussed at the beginning lists some of the gear for the position, it is difficult to apply those items to the lifting table.

While we can make assumptions that items that are carried are either carried with both hands, carried with one hand, or carried by wearing, it is difficult to make assumptions from this table about how the lifting is performed. In addition, the table does not indicate the height ranges that lifts are performed from (knee height, waist height, shoulder height, overhead). This is an important issue when performing post-offer physical abilities testing or when performing a return to work or fit for duty FCE to determine whether an employee qualifies for return to work at full duty.

The lack of details in both the carrying and lifting sections also make it difficult to determine if accommodations are available for modified duty or not.

What About Pushing And Pulling?

Carrying and lifting are two of the three big strength tasks that should be included in a job description. We haven’t discussed pushing and pulling and the tables above don’t include either. Over the course of the primary five pages of the job description, the words pushing and pulling were not present while some of the simple grasping tasks listed (opening doors, gates, hatches, etc.) have frequency values but not force values listed.

However, the physical abilities battery that all candidates must complete includes a requirement of completing a specified number of push/pull cycles of “41 PSI” and a single 6 inch push that is set at “91 PSI”. There is not any documentation within the job description or the test that can be tied directly to these values.

The Climbing Section Is Good

The section that deals with climbing tasks is much better and denotes the types of climbing that may be performed. One of the positive aspects of this section of the description is that it includes stairs as a form of climbing. I have read too many job descriptions in the past that indicate that the job title does not require the ability to climb yet the employee was injured while ascending or descending a flight of stairs.

The one detail that would be helpful is a better description of ladder types. In the past, we have performed onsite ergonomic assessments for generation of customized job descriptions which included multiple types of ladders for the same site including A-frame ladders, extension ladders up to 40 feet, and fixed ladders – both angled and vertical.

Summary

While this job description provides a significant level of detail, it does not include the details that a treating physician, treating physical therapist, or a therapist providing a return to work evaluation would need to successfully prepare an injured employee for return to full duty. These professionals need to know what is being carried, how it is being carried, what is being lifted and where it is being lifted from or to, and how the security officer is outfitted while performing their daily tasks. Pushing and pulling demands need to be better defined – from opening and closing doors, gates, and hatches to other tasks that may require pushing and pulling actions.

Often, when you ask an individual (therapists and physicians included) to describe a security officer, they will respond with a description of a generic security officer that one would meet in a shopping mall or at a concert/sports event. In the case of this job description for security officer, the position is much closer to a paramilitary role and security officers in this role need to treated/rehabbed in that manner.

This job description was heavy on words and tables and would have greatly benefitted from the addition of photographs that help to visually describe and define the actions performed by those in this job title as well as the environments in which the tasks are performed.

“Average-weight objects” and Job Descriptions

Job descriptions like this that use terms such as “average-weight objects” and moderate physical activity are difficult for treating physicians and physical therapists when helping to return an injured employee to work.

Vague job descriptions impact treatment and return to work testing (a Functional Capacity Evaluation works best when there are objective minimum essential demands available for comparing the employee’s ability to push, pull, lift, carry, etc.). It is much more helpful for a physical therapist to understand the physical and postural demands when planning rehab activities and understanding goals.

But, in NJ, these vague descriptions may play out well past the end of treatment. Governor Murphy signed A2617/S-2998 which amends the Workers Compensation laws to provide a hiring “preference” to those who have reached MMI but were not returned to their job position. While the mechanics of this “preference” have not been defined, it does include language that the individual must meet the essential functions of the position:

“Following a work-related injury, an employer shall provide a hiring preference to an employee who has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and is unable to return to the position at which the employee was previously employed for any existing, unfilled position offered by the employer for which the employee can perform the essential functions of the position.”

Take a look at your job descriptions to see if the essential functions have been defined to include essential minimum physical and postural demands.

If you are not sure, we can help review your job descriptions. If you haven’t defined the essential physical and postural demands within your job descriptions, we can help measure those demands.

A Different Look At Walking As A Job Demand

The majority of the time when an injured employee is sent for a Functional Capacity Exam (FCE), the provided job description is either two paragraphs long or is a multipage document generated by a state civil service commission. Often, neither of these descriptions provide any guidance on the actual postural and physical demands of the position. FCE teams are left to look for more information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or if they are lucky, they may get a job description request form returned that has been completed by the employee’s supervisor.

Unfortunately, the returned job description request forms can cause additional confusion about the demands. The individual completing the form may not have a solid understanding of the definition of certain postural tasks and how they are looked at by ergonomists, physical therapists, or physicians. A recent case in point was a job description that I reviewed that included only occasional sitting (marked as less than 33% of the work day) but included constant driving of delivery vehicles (67% to 100% of the work day). After a discussion with the employer, they had a better understanding of the disconnect in the job description that they had created.

In the case of barbers and hair stylists, we have seen forms that had been completed where walking was marked as seldom or occasional. Never marked as frequent or constant. On those forms, standing is normally denoted as a constant demand which is easy to understand. But, much of the day in a barbershop or hair salon is comprised of short walks of maybe 30 feet or less – walking to get supplies, walking a customer to the cash register, etc. But an even bigger part of the day is made up of even shorter walks in the 2 foot to 6 foot range. Barbers work their way around the chair from side to side as they cut hair and when they take that 6 foot walk from the back of the chair to the counter to grab scissors, change a guard on the clippers, or to grab the razor and hot shaving cream – if you are lucky enough to be in an old school barber shop. Those steps and those short walks add up over the course of a day, a week, a year, or many years. The evidence of these steps can be seen in the ring around the base of this barber chair.

When job description request forms need to be completed, there needs to be some basic education for the person assigned to complete the form in terms of definitions of postural and physical demands. In addition, there needs to be a review of the form and a dialogue between the evaluation team and the employer when these forms bring additional questions. Ideally, an ergonomics professional is available to evaluate and document the job demands to build a customized job description but this may not always be the case due to sensitivity of time constraints. However, we are available to help make this process as quick and painless as possible.

The path of many short walks at Calabrese’s Barber Shop in Keyport, NJ.

Jobs That I Would Like To Write Descriptions For…

At last count, I have written job descriptions for over 80 different job types – and that does not account for differentiation between those job types for different employers.  I love getting to go out and write job descriptions because it is an opportunity for me to do two important things.  It lets me go out, sometimes get dirty, and learn what people do at their jobs.  Secondly, it gives me the opportunity to help share their story of what they do, why they do it, and most importantly how they do it. 

I’ve decided to put together a list of some of the occupations that I would like to have the opportunity to write job descriptions for in 2021.  I know that I will probably see many other job titles not on this list as well as revisit some titles that I have done in the past for new clients.  However, each of these titles holds a little bit of extra interest for me either due to the uniqueness of the job title or the discrepancies that I know exist between what is done in the title and what is contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles entry for the job title.

Zookeeper – During the early phases of the pandemic when so many places were shut down, we ended up watching some of the zoo based shows on television.  We have always loved visiting different zoos to learn about different types of animals.  Shortly before the world shut down, I had the opportunity to work with a mental health facility to establish physical and postural demands for the employees that ran the day to day operations of an onsite barn that housed horses, goats, and a couple of other animals.  It was interesting to learn about the tasks that are involved in the care of those animals and I would love to see how those demands change as the size of the animals change.  Turtle Back Zoo, Cape May Zoo, Philly Zoo, I’m available to come help with your job descriptions.

K9 officer – Over the years, I have had the opportunity to measure job demands for regular patrol officers for municipal departments.  While I’ve met K9 officers at events, I have never had the opportunity to discuss actual job demands for their position.   With a good portion of my 10,000 step goal each day going to walking our new puppy, I have a new interest in how these officers interact with their canine partners as well as how their day to day job demands differ from the rest of the officers in the police department.

Mosquito Commission –  As the county I live in is bordered on two sides by water and marshes as well as having a significant numbers of lakes, streams, and rivers, it can get pretty buggy (I live near one of those water/marsh borders so I experience the pain of the mosquitoes every year). The Mosquito Commission works to reduce the mosquito populations through spraying from the air as well as using some unique vehicles to disrupt mosquito hatching areas in the marshes.  It would be interesting to get to see their work up close as well as the vehicles that they use to perform their job. These vehicles and the environments that these employees work in generate some interesting needs in terms of postural demands.

School Nurse – Nursing is an occupation that is unfairly lumped into a catch all entry in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.  There are so many different environments where nursing is performed.  So often, we think about hospitals and doctors offices and forget about the nurses that are tasked with taking care of our children during the school day.  School nurses have had an incredible additional burden placed on them to help take care of students and staff this year in terms of COVID-19.  I would love to have the opportunity to share their story of the things that they take care of that the general public (and their school district administration) may not be aware that they do.

Paraprofessional (schools) – When we were performing Functional Capacity Evaluations, we used to be sent paraprofessionals from local school districts that had been injured in providing assistance and care to assigned students.  In the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, they are placed at the light (20 pounds occasional) work level under the teacher’s assistant entry.  However, many of the paraprofessionals that I have met over the years are working in classrooms where they are performing hands on assistance for children that may not be able to perform certain tasks for themselves – almost in a similar physical demands role to a home health aide or CNA.  They are getting injured performing tasks that are well above that 20 pound occasional demand level.

Land surveyor – Over the last year with people moving out of the city as they realize they can work remotely, land surveyors have been super busy with property surveys to help close sales of houses.  But land surveyors do much more and work in many different environments, from helping to verify flood maps to measuring commercial properties to make sure that footings are where they are supposed to be.

Organ/piano repairer – Last Thanksgiving weekend, I had a short opportunity to watch an organ repairer begin taking apart a large pipe organ in a church for a long overdue repair.  I was amazed to see the collection of pipes and bellows that hide in a room behind a faux wall that make up the bulk of a pipe organ.  This is an occupation that requires many different physical abilities to perform.

Wildlife Conservation officer – My family spends a lot of time outdoors, both here in NJ and when we vacation in Maine, which has resulted in North Woods Law and Lone Star Law becoming favorite television shows for our family.  We also live in an area where we can occasionally find the NJ DEP Conservation Police performing patrols.  They don’t have many officers and their job requires them to perform physically in a variety of different environments.  It would be interesting to get a better understanding of the physical and postural demands for this position.

Blacksmith – This is a job title that I would love to be able to do a comparison of the physical demands for current blacksmiths and how blacksmiths used to perform their profession. I always love watching the blacksmiths do their work at Allaire Village in NJ and at Washington Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania. When they are working, they need to keep track of both the fire used to heat the metal for shaping it as well as use a variety of tools to shape the metal into their intended final product. With the blacksmiths who demonstrate the older, colonial era methods at the parks it would be interesting to do that comparison of how technology has changed the physical demands for metalworking.

A Blacksmith working at Washington’s Crossing.

Podcast Review – Jocko Podcast #267

Podcast Review: Jocko Podcast Episode 267 – Are You Competing In The Right Things

This is the first of a series of reviews of podcasts that I think have application in the realm of occupational health and safety.  I know that many who work in occupational health and safety are fans of podcasts – as am I – and these reviews will help identify podcast episodes that might not be on everybody’s radar.

Some background about the podcast:

I’ve tweeted and talked with people about the application of some of Jocko Willink’s podcasts in the realm of occupational health and safety in the past.  Jocko’s podcast focuses on issues related to leadership and “extreme ownership” whether it is in the business world, the military, or life in general.  As his podcasts are on the longer side, I tend to be a little choosier in which episodes that I listen to or more importantly when/where I listen to them.  They can not be knocked out in a typical drive to or from work – they normally take a couple of drives or runs or walks.  Even tougher is that his podcasts are one of the podcasts where I typically think – I wish I wasn’t driving so I could write this note down for myself.

(graphic from jockopodcast.com)


Episode Background:

Episode 267 is a discussion between Jocko and Dave Berke, one of Jocko’s colleagues who is a former Top Gun officer and Marine Corps fighter pilot, about the United States Marine Corps MCDP 1-4 document which encompasses the USMC doctrine on Competing.  While the document covers what one would expect from a combat service in terms of “competing” in different environments, Jocko and Dave help to apply it to corporate goals for businesses as well as when working in teams in a business. 

“We’re competing all the time.  But don’t waste your time competing in short term contests that don’t lead you towards your strategic goal.”

Highlights And Applications to Occupational Health and Safety:

Shortly into the podcast, Jocko discusses one of the more important issues of “competing” – who are you competing with and why, illustrating it with a story about the tactical victory of beating his youngest daughter in Monopoly but losing the strategic victory because she no longer wants to play Monopoly with him.  We have to be careful about the tactical and strategic victories in occupational health and safety.  Sometimes those tactical wins can cause us to lose from a strategic standpoint.

“Pay attention to what you’re competing in, make sure it’s taking you in the right direction.”

“We’re competing all the time.  But don’t waste your time competing in short term contests that don’t lead you towards your strategic goal.”

This concept is so important when it comes to the world of occupational health and safety.  We need to make sure that we are going in the right direction – not just going for a specific number or metric but competing to actually change the culture towards a safer culture that takes responsibility for themselves and their peers through their actions. 

One of the important topics that they talk about in regards to “competition” is being able to see from the other person’s viewpoint – whether it is a competitor, an employee, a family member, etc.  This is so important with implementing safety programs.  Dave Berke provides a unique example that can definitely apply as we try to implement new programs – he explains that when he was an adversary pilot at Top Gun, his job was to both see the world through the lens of Russian pilots and then teach the young Top Gun pilots how to go on the offensive maneuvers against him while he had to both fly defensively and also visualize the viewpoint of the student pilot – in other words, see both points of view.    In occupational health and safety, we need to see not only our viewpoint, but the viewpoints of the employees, the management, and any other stakeholders to better understand how viewpoints may affect implementation.

Another important point that Jocko makes during the discussion is that of “connecting the dots” when someone may not know all of the details. People have a tendency to use their imagination to connect the dots in absence of solid information.  As much as possible, we need to make the information of how or why we are implementing a plan available to curtail the rumors and guesses at the how/why.  I know that when I go out to a site to measure for job descriptions that if it hasn’t been adequately explained, employees will have their own stories and reasons for why I am there.  And almost always, those reasons are never close to the real reason.

There is a quick discussion on the importance of word choice and tone in how an employee reacts.  We may say something to give that employee additional responsibility which is often a good thing and representative of our trust but if it isn’t conveyed adequately, that employee may feel that we have dumped something on them. Tim Page-Bottorff’s “Storytelling in Safety” podcast has a lot of great discussions that cover communication that we will visit in the future.

There is a reminder that culture changes take time but culture of an organization is really important.  It affects how each member of an organization chooses to do things.  (Quick operational definition of culture that was used – culture is a system of beliefs, values, and behavioral norms that operate in the background below the level of conscious awareness.) 

Interestingly, the discussion of culture brought Jocko and Dave around to discussing safety (the application I had been thinking from the beginning of the podcast) – how culture affects cutting corners, PPE use, saying something or not say something when you see risky behavior.  Also, how solid culture helps to have all employees take responsibility in what goes on – it doesn’t mitigate all risk, but gets us on the path to reducing those risks.

Conclusion:

This episode is worth the time to listen to and get more information on identifying when, where, and how we should be competing.   As noted above, there is a lot of crossover to the area of occupational health and safety – where the “competition” that we are involved in helps to aid in not only job performance but more importantly helping to make sure that employees go home safely at the end of their shift.

Improving Your New Hire Postings

Over the years, we have found our clients have more successful new candidate hiring programs when the physical and postural demands for a position are clearly explained in all phases of the hiring process – starting with advertising the position.

The demands from this job posting don’t offer potential new team members a clear idea of what will be expected of them physically. If you include a post-offer pre-employment testing process, including the demands in your job postings as well as in materials handed out during the hiring process help to make sure that new hire candidates are not testing for unexpected physical demands.

We can help you improve your hiring process and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries by helping to improve your job descriptions through measurement of essential postural and physical demands.

When Is An Elevator Not An Accommodation?

The issue of climbing (or to be more specific ascending and descending) in job descriptions is typically problematic. Often, job descriptions tend to not acknowledge climbing activities – whether the climbing is in the ascending/descending of stairs, stepladders, vertical ladders on structures and vehicles, or any other type of climbing device. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll visit some of these situations more specifically.

For now, we are going to look at the issue of when an elevator might not be an accommodation for someone who has a restriction or physical limitation that might not allow them to use the stairs. While newer buildings typically provide elevators in order to meet ADA compliance needs, not all buildings have elevators (my current office building does not). Some schools have incorporated wheelchair lifts and elevators to allow students in wheelchairs to be able to access stages and rooms that were only accessible by stairs. It would seem that these lifts/elevators would be a potential accommodation for staff that could not use the stairs, but this is not always the case.

In one particular school system that we visited to assist with customized job descriptions, it is not an acceptable accommodation. This particular school works with students who have behavioral issues and as such has specific guidelines for movement of students between classrooms. For students to move from one classroom to another, a teacher and a paraprofessional accompany the class, one at the head of the line and one at the end. This particular procedure is followed in all hallways and specifically when using the stairs to access the gymnasium. The elevator does not work as an accommodation as it takes one of the two responsible adults away from their position in monitoring the students for an extended period of time. For the elevator to be an acceptable accommodation for an employee, in this circumstance, it would require assigning an additional staff member when they enter/leave from the gymnasium to provide appropriate coverage of the students.

In the event a student needs to use the elevator, that student has an additional aide that monitors them in the hallways and can go to the bottom/top to wait while other professionals are with the student and class.

An elevator/lift is positioned next to the stairs for access to the gymnasium.

Safety Lessons with Moxie – Communication

Safety Lessons with Moxie

Learning to live with and train a very energetic rescue puppy has been a great refresher on a lot of safety topics that we all tend to talk about but don’t always put into practice.  I’ll be sharing some of the reminders that Moxie, our Australian cattle dog-beagle mix, has been teaching me over the next couple of weeks.  The first lesson that she has taught us is communication.

Communication

Weekly puppy training classes have been as much for us as they have been for Moxie.  The class instructor is very big on teaching both verbal commands as well as non-verbal commands. 

She spent a significant portion of the first class reminding us that the non-verbal commands are important because we may be in situations where verbal commands may either not be appropriate or effective.  In noisy areas, verbal commands may be lost to the ambient noise or just add to the confusion of the situation.  When I used to be part of a team performing Functional Capacity Evaluations as well as when I helped run a team doing motion analysis research, non-verbal communication via hand signals or facial expressions was a very important part of not adding distractions for the person being tested.  Sometimes, it would be to let a team member know to pay extra attention to a movement or a behavior.  In an industrial setting, the equipment may be too noisy to be heard above it.  Knowing what specific hand signals mean in that kind of setting can be the difference between working effectively and needing to call the emergency squad.

Moxie is working on learning to live with and listen to the four two-legged people in our house.  Working on Moxie’s training has also been a work in progress for the four of us in being consistent with the specific words that we use with her.  There are so many words that we as people can utilize to mean the same thing because we can interpret intent based on tone, volume, and setting.  That is not so easy for our four legged addition – two of the phrases that we are working on maintaining clarity of intent are “stay” and “wait”. 

“Wait” for dogs is a temporary command.  To a dog, it indicates that they need to temporarily hang out where they are until a command is given to them to be released.  It can be used to tell them to wait until you put a leash on/take the leash off or until you open their crate.

“Stay” is a more permanent command.  Stay is letting the dog know that it will be there, either sitting or laying down, until you come back to them.  It lets them know that it may be a while and not just the short period of time to click on a leash or put food in a dish.

A simple example, that often causes injuries in the workplace, it the confusion of the countdown when performing a task.  It always makes for a funny scene in a movie or sitcom when the count stops so that one person can ask the other if the lift is “on 1” or “after 1”.  Unfortunately, there are many fatal incidents every year that are due to communication errors.  One of the contributing factors to the crash of Avianca Flight 52 from Bogota to New York was a communication error regarding the fuel state of the passenger plane.  While most laypeople would take the phrase “we’re running low on fuel” to be a problem, that is not the common wording in aviation for declaring an inflight emergency. Because the flight crew didn’t accurately communicate their fuel state – which was dangerously low – to the tower, the tower did not know that Avianca Flight 52 was running on fumes. Avianca Flight 52 was unable to make their first landing attempt and had to go around for a second attempt. This second attempt ended when the plane ran out of fuel 20 miles short of the runway. Better communication of their dangerously low fuel state would have potentially allowed for a successful first landing attempt.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been getting better at interpreting Moxie’s verbal cues (barking) communication and her non-verbal (tapping, nipping at my elbow) to know when she is hungry, her toy has gotten stuck behind something, or that it is time for a trip outside for the bathroom.  I don’t have it all down yet, but I am getting there.

This was my failure in the use of the “Leave It” and “Drop It” commands.