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.

#PublicRiskManagementAwarenessDay

NJ Ergonomics is proud to be able to support public risk managers in reducing the risks to public employees who are responsible for the day to day operations of public entities.

We have worked with local and county entities to help improve job descriptions by measuring the essential minimum physical and postural demands for many different job titles – from police and road crews to sanitation workers and buildings and grounds employees. Defining the essential minimum physical and postural demands allows these public employers to reduce risk through post-offer pre-employment physical abilities testing as well as providing more accurate job descriptions to help guide physicians and physical therapists when providing care and treatment to injured workers. These improved job demands also help risk managers and department heads find appropriate modified duty positions based on both an employee’s current abilities and temporary restrictions from treating physicians.


We have also helped public employers reduce risk by providing ergonomic suggestions for task performance. Sometimes, these suggestions are as simple as changing the locations of supplies on shelves to help employees lift using biomechanical advantage by placing heavier objects within their power zones. Other times, these suggestions may be in the form of equipment or process changes that improve job task safety or reduce the physical demands of a task.

Our services help public risk managers and department heads meet those functions by providing a unique eye to a job environment with our background in functional capacity evaluations. We’ve seen the different ways employees can be injured in different environments and we bring that knowledge with us as we scan and identify risks while providing objective information about the essential minimum physical and postural demands of assigned job tasks. Providing solid, objective information on the physical and postural demands can help risk managers and department supervisors better analyze the risks when bringing an individual back on modified duty to ensure that the employee is able to complete assigned tasks safely while allowing them to remain a productive member of their team.

Contact us at (732) 796-7370 to set a time for a complimentary review of your current job descriptions or e-mail us at info@njergonomics.com.

Are You Checking For Proper PPE Usage?

Since last March, a major focus on correct PPE wear has been on masks – you can even buy masks that include a reminder that the mask is supposed to cover the nose. However, I have seen too many incidences of improper usage of PPE or lack of checking whether an employee is even wearing their provided PPE over the years. Today’s workplace safety tip from OSHA is a reminder to make sure that your employee’s are properly wearing their PPE.

Most employers will say that they offer their employees any possible PPE that you can think of to keep their employees safe. While writing job descriptions, I have even seen storerooms that are stocked better than any supply store with steel toed boots, all manner of gloves, safety vests, etc., but many employers don’t always check to see that it is properly used.

Next time you drive through a road maintenance project, take a good look at the road crew. Are they wearing eye protection as they are prepping the road surface or is their eye protection flipped up and sitting on top of their head? Are they using any type of ear protection as they are using the blower or operating heavy equipment to patch the surface of the road? Last fall while out with a road crew, I asked one of the crew members why they weren’t wearing any ear protection when they were shoveling out the road surface while the grinding attachment was running. The answer was “Well, they were in my truck and it is hot and sweaty out today which makes the ear plugs fall out. Besides, I played in punk and metal bands for 25 years so my hearing isn’t going to get any worse.” These are not great answers…..and the rest of the crew wasn’t much better. When one was asked about eye protection after blowing out a pothole, “It’s tough. I know I should wear something but that road is half in the shade, half in the sun and my glasses are either too light or too dark.”

In another case, an employee was sent to us for a Fit For Duty test. As the employee was filling out paperwork, they shifted in their chair. The foot that had been tucked under the chair came into view and I noticed that the employee was wearing a camwalker (walking boot). The Fit For Duty hadn’t been for any issue related to a foot or ankle injury. When I asked about the boot, I was informed that they were not cleared for shoes yet due to a partial amputation of the foot. The employee then told me that they had been working like this since the amputation. The employer has a rule requiring the use of safety boots while on-site. Nobody had realized that the employee was limping (due to the amputation and the rocker bottom of the camwalker) and didn’t notice because the camwalker was black like the employer issued safety boots.

One of the safety directors at a client site used our visits as a chance to provide gentle reminders to site personnel about wearing their appropriate PPE whether it was boots, gloves, vests, or hardhats. If he saw an employee that was missing PPE, he’d ask me to ask for some information about their job – which is why I was there in the first place – and then as we were leaving, give a subtle “If you need an extra vest/boots/gloves/etc., stop by the office and we’ll get you another set.”

Be proactive in making sure that employees are wearing the appropriate PPE at all times so that they remember to wear it without needing to be reminded.

Where’s The Soap?

Some of the OSHA daily tips seem like they shouldn’t need to be said – much like today’s tip. But, we’ve all gone into a bathroom in a workplace – either as an employee or as a customer – that didn’t have hand soap or paper towels. During the pandemic, I can think of many different places that had hand sanitizer set up in key locations only to be left without having been refilled.

While hygiene supplies – whether it is soap, paper towels, or hand sanitizer – have a cost, that cost is significantly less than the cost of having one or more employees call out sick.

Even though we have been watching graphs of positive COVID cases go up and down over the last year, physicians have seen illnesses such as the flu and the common cold decrease over the same time. Public health officials attribute this to people washing their hands regularly, watching their distance, and covering their sneezes and coughs.

Train Workers On COVID-19 Procedures In A Language They Understand

Training only works if the people that you are training understand what you are trying to share with them. When it comes to health and safety procedures, you need to make sure that the message gets to your employees.

At several of the meat packing plants that had outbreaks last spring, the COVID procedure signage was only in English and not all of their employee population spoke/read English. The Smithfield plant that had over 783 COVID cases gave instructions to sick workers in English, despite the fact that 40 different languages were spoken by its employees. This issue also made the work difficult for epidemiologists and industrial hygienists who were trying to understand how the spread occurred.

Not A Replacement

OSHA offers a great e-mail feature that provides a workplace safety tip in your e-mail on a daily basis. Today’s tip was a solid reminder that while masks can help prevent spread of COVID, they are not a substitute for physical distancing and barriers.


Personal protective equipment (PPE), whether masks for COVID or hearing protection in noisy areas, is considered the last line of defense in protection of employees. Employers should attempt to use engineering controls or administrative controls to reduce or mitigate risks before relying on PPE to protect an employee.

Engineering controls involve changes to the physical workspace that change how a task is performed. When possible, engineering controls are the preferred over administrative controls because they help to mitigate risks at the source.

  • Engineering controls for COVID include physical barriers between workstations, changes to air filtration, inclusion of decontamination stations, installing drive through windows, installing contactless payment kiosks, etc.
  • Engineering controls for non-COVID related issues may include reducing the weight of objects, the use of assistive devices to handle materials, or machine guards.

Administrative controls involve changes in policies, procedures, and practices to reduce risks. Administrative controls rely on changing workers behaviors in a task and are not as effective as engineering controls.

  • Administrative controls for COVID include encouraging sick employees to stay home, use of Zoom meetings over face to face meetings, and establishing alternating workday cohort schedules.
  • Administrative controls for non-COVID related issues may include job rotation schedules, written operating procedures for a task, warning signs and alarms, etc.

With non-COVID related issues, the first steps are to identify the hazards and risks so that a decision can be made as to what engineering controls or administrative controls can be put into place. One of the job description projects that we had performed helped to expedite the purchase of an engineering control solution for a client.

County Weights and Measures personnel are responsible for testing the accuracy of pumps at gas stations and typically have performed this task using calibrated 5 gallon tanks that are filled at the pump and then poured back into the fuel storage tanks after measurement. This can be a dangerous task as it relies on drivers noticing the cones that may be placed to show that a pump is not available for service or notice the safety vest worn by the Weights and Measures employee.

After documenting this task for the custom job description, a suggestion was noted that the specialized pickup mounted collection and measurement device would reduce this risk. The device allows Weights and Measures officials to pump directly from the gas pumps into a truck mounted collection device that can be moved from pump to pump, rather than making multiple trips carrying 5 gallon containers across busy parking lots. This engineering control allows for significant reduction in risk of injury to the employee.

I Just Drive The Loader…

As I walked out of the foodstore after grabbing lunch, I was reminded of why it is so important to have solid job descriptions for heavy equipment operators. I watched the operator of this piece of equipment hop out to shovel snow into the scoop because the plows had piled the snow in a location that was inaccessible to the heavier equipment.

The operator was shoveling snow into the scoop because the loader could not get to the piles of snow left by the plows.

I can’t even count the times that I have listened to a heavy equipment operator say during an FCE that they don’t need to be there for physical testing because all they do is sit and operate a piece of equipment. Many times, this was a tricky situation because the employer did not have a job description that had more than a couple of bullet points, typically noting requirements to be certified to operate certain types of equipment. This can sometimes take the return to work decision from the physicians and rehab professionals and place it in the hands of the lawyers to argue over what tasks are actually performed by the employee.

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles entries don’t often offer much help for equipment operator positions as they include information about tasks the equipment might be used to complete but they don’t provide a clear picture of the entirety of the position. Over the years, I have been out in the field with equipment operators who operated all manner of heavy equipment and were also responsible for other tasks during the course of their shift. These tasks included manual digging with shovels (or even shoveling snow into the loader), carrying equipment, lifting and carrying debris to a loader bucket for removal, adding or removing different attachments to the heavy equipment and more.

In addition to the physical tasks, I have been in locations that have required heavy equipment operators to walk across wet and/or uneven terrain just to get to their equipment. As I write this post, people are still digging out from Winter Storm Orlena which dumped anywhere between 15 and 30 inches of snow across the northeast. Many equipment operators have had to walk across slippery parking lots, covered in ice and snow, to get to their assigned loaders. On large construction sites, while the site is still being graded and excavated in preparation for construction, operators often walk across muddy, uneven areas. This mud can cake up in the steps on the side of the equipment making that 20 inch first step into a 23 inch first step as well as making things a little more slippery for climbing on/off of equipment.

While I have been on job sites in which the heavy equipment operators are solely operators – typically on sites where multiple unions are working together – the majority of sites have had heavy equipment operators that fill multiple roles or maybe assigned tasks other than operating equipment.

Take a minute to check your job descriptions.

  • Do they include information on getting to and from equipment? (Where might they be walking?)
  • Do they include step up height for the different pieces of equipment that are operated?
  • Do they include the additional roles and responsibilities of the operator? Do they help with manual digging with a shovel? Do they have to pick up materials for loading that may not be able to be accessed by the equipment?

If you are wondering whether your job descriptions provide enough information about the essential minimum postural and physical demands as well as describe the essential tasks in a way that explains them to the treating physician or therapist, give us a call at 732-796-7370 or e-mail me at quin@njergonomics.com.

A Tale of Two Accommodations

It was the best of accommodations, it was the worst of accommodations….

All apologies to Charles Dickens for stealing his famous opening line but over a very short time period several years ago, we were sent two claimants who fell at the extremes of what can happen during workplace accommodations following a workplace injury.

In both cases, accurate job descriptions could have prevented these issues.

The first of the two cases was an employee at a county run mental health facility.  Unfortunately, we evaluated this claimant after they were injured in the position that was used as an accommodation after their first workplace injury.  The employee’s second injury was a reinjury of their right rotator cuff, which had been injured in the first injury.  At the time of the employee’s first injury, she worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant.  While transferring a patient, she suffered a tear of her right rotator cuff for which she underwent surgical repair of the rotator cuff.  She attended physical therapy for approximately 3 months following surgery.  At the conclusion of physical therapy, the claimant was accommodated through placement in a different position after the treating physician suggested that she was not able to safely return to her previous position as a CNA.  An FCE to determine her physical abilities at the end of treatment was not performed.  The employer chose to accommodate the employee by offering her a position within the housekeeping department of the facility, specifically in a position that was responsible for distribution of clean linens and collection of dirty and/or used linens.

Within 4 months of being switched to the housekeeping department, the employee was lifting a bag of dirty linens into a tall rolling cart when she tore injured her right rotator cuff for the second time.  She underwent a second surgical repair and was sent for an FCE after completing physical therapy.  She provided a consistent effort during the FCE and qualified at the light work level (20 pounds occasional, 10 pounds frequent, negligible constant).  In both cases, the employer did not have customized job descriptions for either of these job titles.   

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles places the CNA position and the linen staff for housekeeping in a hospital at the medium work level (50 pounds occasional, 25 pounds frequent, 10 pounds constant).  While lacking a customized description that accurately and objectively defines the minimum essential physical demands, a cursory look at the DOT entries would indicate that this accommodation was a transfer to a position with a similar physical demand level as the position that the physician had recommended against.  Having measured the physical demands for both positions at several facilities, while the overall tasks performed are different, the forces required to push, pull, and lift in performance of tasks is similar.  Employees working in linen services in most hospital facilities face overstuffed bags of dirty linens that have to be lifted to shoulder height or above when placing in laundry carts as well as several other physically demanding tasks.

The second case started off slightly different.  He had been sent for an FCE due to injuries sustained in a vehicle based accident at work.  Based on the customized job description that was provided by the employer, his FCE results indicated that he did not meet the essential minimum physical and postural demands of his position.  The employer identified a variety of tasks that could be performed by the employee in an accommodation based on his demonstrated physical abilities during the FCE.  They asked us to perform an onsite visit to measure the physical demands and postures of the tasks that would be offered as an accommodation to the employee.   As we were evaluating tasks, the supervisor showed us the equipment on which the employee had been injured.  As we were looking at the equipment, I dug into my notebook where I had a copy of the provided job description. 

The onsite equipment did not match the job description that we had been provided with for the test.  The equipment used for the employee’s job title provided ground level access with handrails and required only an 8 inch step to climb onto the equipment.  The job description had indicated a step height of 22 inches.  We brought this to the attention of the supervisor who looked at the description that I had brought with me.  He realized that they had been using a company wide description that did not accurately reflect the equipment at each of the sites.  The description had been based on a location in another state. 

We continued to evaluate the proposed accommodations but we also measured the demands for the position that the employee held at the time of injury.  After collecting all of the data, a review of the employee’s FCE performance versus site specific equipment measurements indicated that the employee could return to his full duty position with no restrictions.  Fully documented addendums were sent to the case manager and the treating physician.  The treating physician returned the employee to full duty.

While the second case had a successful outcome for both the employer and employee, the case could have been resolved about 1 month earlier had the provided job description been accurate for the specific worksite.  In the first case, a second injury with subsequent surgery may have been prevented if the accommodated position had been validated against the individual’s physical abilities.  In both cases, accurate job descriptions could have prevented these issues.