This photo entitled “How To Not Doze Off” is from the 1905 book “East and War” by Russian writer V.M. Doroshevich which described the Doroshevich’s travels to India. The subject of the photo is a student at Madras University.
Ergonomics has come a long way in the area of improving how we sit and perform tasks since the time of this photo.
We no longer need to nail strands of hair to the wall to keep us from falling asleep as we study – movement breaks can help.
We know that chairs with proper back support are better for us – so that we don’t fall into a forward leaning posture.
We know (much like our parents told us) to keep our elbows off the table – it causes us to shrug our shoulders.
We know that reading materials (or our computer screens) should be placed in a position relative to the height of our eyes (when we are in an optimal seating position) – so that we don’t flex our neck and shrug our shoulders while looking down.
For all of that knowledge, we know better. We know what to do to place our bodies in optimal positions to perform seated tasks in an efficient manner.
But, over the last couple of weeks I have heard the following from employees of different employers:
“They got rid of the adjustable chairs in the control room and replaced them with hard back non-adjustable chairs because they didn’t want us to fall asleep or get comfortable in the control room.”
“We need comfortable chairs to work in this room but the team in that room should not have comfortable seating. If they are comfortable, they won’t be as detail oriented as they need to be.”
Both of these comments come from positions that don’t understand that good ergonomics can keep workers comfortable while allowing them to pay better attention to the tasks that they are performing. These comments are counterproductive as they advocate for working postures and habits that place employees at risk for musculoskeletal injuries.
Providing appropriate seating for the task as well as education to employees on the best ways to set up their workstations – whether onsite or at home – can go a long way in improving employee performance and reducing the risks of musculoskeletal injuries. Lost time from those injuries can cause delays and increased costs that far outweigh the cost of optimizing their workstation.
Whether an office based work area, a workstation in a lab, or some type of industrial task, we can help you to identify potential ergonomic risks and help you to make the changes that will reduce musculoskeletal risks to your and your employees.
**Hat tip to writer and author Neal Bascomb who recently used this photo on a post for his excellent “Work/Craft/Life” blog. I would have never seen this photo if he hadn’t posted it.
Cuts and lacerations account for nearly 1/3 of all workplace injuries. But, a significant portion of all cuts and lacerations in the workplace are preventable by following some simple guidelines. It sounds simple and should be common sense but we’ve seen too many people over the years that lost significant work time due to easily preventable cuts and lacerations.
Before using a knife, make sure it is sharp and in good condition. A dull knife is more likely to slip and cause an accident. If the knife has any damage, do not use it.
Do not use a dull or blunt blade – harder to cut in a straight line with a dull blade and it can encourage the use of too much force.
Do not use too much force – greater chance for it to slip or go off target while at speed which can increase the severity of the laceration
Always cut away from your body and any other people nearby. This will help reduce the risk of accidental cuts or injuries.
Pay attention to what you are doing. Distractions can lead to accidents, so stay focused and avoid multitasking while using a knife.
Make sure the blade and handle are appropriate for the job – ergonomics are important.
Use cut resistant gloves – accidents do happen and cut resistant gloves can help to minimize the damage
Keep the right knife handy – keep the appropriate tool close to where it will be used so that people aren’t encouraged to use the nearest blade that they can find out of convenience
If you are not confident in your ability to safely use a knife, do not hesitate to ask for help or guidance from a more experienced colleague.
Sounds too easy but employers can help reduce musculoskeletal injuries by making sure that potential employees have an honest idea of the actual physical demands.
Not generic demands that don’t give candidates a solid mental picture of what will be asked of them. Let them know what they need to be able to do, how frequently they need to be able to do it, and the setting in which they will be performing their physical tasks.
Don’t get in the trap of writing that the job requires employees to be able to lift “50 pounds” or “25 pounds” – it might give a false impression of what is expected. Do they have to lift 50 pounds once each day or is it a frequent demand, multiple times per day? Are they lifting it from floor height or shoulder height?
Post offer testing can reduce the risks even further. Post-offer physical abilities testing can help compare a new hire candidate’s physical abilities against the validated physical demands of the position. It allows an employer to make sure that the candidate is able to meet the demands. If they don’t meet the demands, the offer of employment can be rescinded.
Give us a call. We can help you reduce your work related injuries.
When is a task at heights temporary and infrequent?
If you have an employee who goes onto the roof of a client’s building (greater than 15 feet in height) to assess the condition of an air conditioning unit but not perform work on the unit which is more than 15 feet from the edge, do they need to use safety equipment to reduce/mitigate their risk of falling?
What if the client only requires this service infrequently? Again, it is a diagnostic visit rather than a repair visit. If your employees perform the repair, they always establish a work plan and use the appropriate personal fall arrest gear, guard rails, safety nets, etc. This practice would seem to meet the infrequent threshold for 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A) and would possibly allow your employee to assess the equipment to see if it needs to be repaired without the use of additional safety gear.
But, what if your employee repeats this process as multiple sites for different clients on a daily basis? Is the task still “infrequent” and “temporary” as laid out by OSHA.
Clarification from OSHA
One of the things that OSHA does well is the publication of answers to letters asking for clarification of existing rules. They publish agency responses to these letters on the OSHA website on a frequent basis.
In regards to the first part of the scenario, OSHA responded that 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A) provides an exemption to fall protection when employees are further than 15 from the edge, provided “that the work is both infrequent and temporary.”
In accordance with 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A), when work is performed 15 feet or more from the roof edge, each employee must be protected from falling by a guardrail system, a safety net system, a travel restraint system, personal fall arrest system, or a designated area. This provision allows that employers are not required to provide any fall protection, provided the work is both infrequent and temporary and the employer implements and enforces a work rule that prohibits employees from going within 15 feet of the roof edge without fall protection. It is incumbent upon the employer to show that the exemption applies and that the work is both infrequent AND temporary.
OSHA response from Patrick Kapust to Timothy Brink
What do infrequent and temporary mean?
Whether an employer can show that the exemption applies depends upon whether the work is infrequent and temporary. The response from Kapust outlines a series of tasks that are viewed as being consistent with infrequent (annual service, battery replacement, filter replacement, repairs, etc.). However, because the particular employee in this scenario is performing this action (evaluating the condition of a device on a roof that is greater than 15 feet high and more than 15 feet from the edge) on a repeated basis (daily, weekly, etc.), the task is not considered to be infrequent.
Infrequent jobs also do not include those that workers perform as a primary or routine part of their job or repeatedly at various locations during a work shift.
OSHA response from Patrick Kapust to Timothy Brink
The letter acknowledges that this particular task is temporary in nature (diagnosing/evaluating the need for the repair) but notes that due to the fact that it does not meet the definition of infrequent, appropriate fall protection must be used each time the employee performs the task.
This is a question that we have heard over the years from companies that require a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) for employees in certain job titles – whether they are bus/transport vehicle drivers or public works employees. For many positions that involve driving certain classes of vehicles, the state or federal government require a driver to have a CDL. One component of obtaining and maintaining a CDL is undergoing a DOT medical examination with a DOT certified provider.
The main purpose of a DOT medical examination as part of obtaining/maintaining a CDL is to ensure that a driver is medically safe to operate the vehicles within the classification of their license. Priority areas of a DOT medical exam include assessments of vision, hearing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health history, metabolic health history (ex. diabetes), and an overall physical assessment. An assessment of the upper and lower extremities checks for muscle weakness or loss of limbs. While range of motion is addressed in a DOT medical examination, it is to determine whether the examinee has any potential range of motion issues that the DOT examiner may feel are detrimental to their ability to operate trucks and passenger buses. While an employer may be sending a driver for an exam, the examiner is not evaluating based on specific job demands.
The DOT medical examination does not address specific range of motion issues related to ingress/egress for specific types of vehicles (how high is the first step and the grab handles), the range of motion required to operate controls on specific vehicles, or the strength and range of motion related requirements to perform employer specific tasks (loading/unloading products/materials, securing items, operating controls, moving hoses, pulling down ladders, etc.). A job specific post-offer physical pre-employment evaluation (or depending upon the situation, Return To Work FCE or Fit For Duty FCE) can address the examinee’s ability to perform the essential minimum postural and physical demands of the position. Employers should have a customized job description that includes objective measurements of the essential minimum physical and postural demands of the job title. These measurements should be collected using the vehicles, equipment, and other items that are used by the employer and employees when performing their job.
Obtaining a DOT medical certification does not necessarily mean that a driver can meet the essential postural and physical demands of a customized job description. Conversely, meeting the essential postural and physical demands of a customized job description does not mean that a driver will be able to successfully pass a DOT medical examination (a variety of medical conditions are automatic exclusions in DOT medical examinations or require physician approved waivers).
NJ Ergonomics can assist with the documentation of objective measurement of physical and postural demands of job tasks as well as generation of Post-Offer Pre-Employment physical abilities testing protocols that are based on the essential demands of a job title.
There are several things that make the process of going onsite to help tell the stories of how people do their jobs fun. I love to get to talk to people and have them teach me about what they do and I love to find out what brought them to that job. I enjoy looking and digging into the physical and postural demands of the position, measuring them, and being able to convey them back in a way that is useful to physicians, nurses, and physical therapists to rehab an injured employee and help them return to work.
But, one of my hobbies is photography. I love that I can use my hobby at work to help tell the story. Sometimes, words can not convey the environment that a task is performed in or the posture a worker has to adopt to complete the task. They old saw “a picture says a 1,000 words” is definitely true when it comes to photography incorporated into a job description. It can help a clinician better imagine the task as performed in the environment. For a physical therapist, it may help them pick a better exercise to mimic the task or for a physician, it may help them to better understand the needed strength or range of motion for the task.
That being said, worksite photograph can sometimes make matters worse if the photo does not tell an accurate story of the action or environment being depicted. The perspective that a photo is taken from can distort the viewer’s perception of where a task is performed at or can make the height at which a task is performed looked less than or greater than it actually is. If the photograph distorts the task or the environment, it can do an injustice to the worker or the clinicians as the return to work process is engaged.
The photograph at the top of this blog was taken when we were leaving the worksite where laborers were building a new interchange where three highways merge together. The dockworkers who were operating the crane were installing 50 ton pilings that would eventually support the roof of a tunnel. When I took this image, we were in our vehicle and on the actual highway that was still in operation but below the job site. It looks as if the crane is precipitously close to an inclined surface where backing up a little bit could be disastrous.
In reality, there was a significant area of operational surface around the crane. That surface was also pretty muddy as we had several hours of solid rain prior to our visit. That mud is important because it helps remind the treating clinicians that the employees have to be able to “walk in areas of wet and/or uneven terrain” which helps to put the context in place for why the ability to walk and the ability to balance is important within the position. The photograph below looks at the crane from an entirely different perspective and shows how much additional space is around the crane. (For the photographers that may read this, the photograph was shot an effective focal length of 24mm. Even with this wide angle, I had to back up a significant distance to be able to capture the entirety of the crane within the frame.)
New Jersey employers will be facing two important changes to the Workers Compensation system in the New Year. These changes will bring additional costs for employers (while one improves benefits to the injured worker as well) and one change will potentially impact hiring processes for employers.
NJ Work Comp benefits to increase by 10%
As noted in John Geaney’s NJ Work Comp blog, work comp benefits in New Jersey will be increasing by 10% in 2022. This increase impacts weekly payments to employees who are out on workers comp as well as impacting the overall payments for permanent disability for a claimant and increasing the lawyers fees that are paid. One thing to remember is that the increase in payments for permanency awards still happens even if the injured employee even if there was no impact to their wages.
Employers can work to proactively reduce increased workers compensation costs by using customized job descriptions that are up to date, objective and accurately reflect the minimum essential physical and postural demands of the job title. These job descriptions can be used for post-offer pre-employment physical abilities testing, to help guide physicians and physical therapists in rehabilitating an injured employee safely and efficiently, to help identify appropriate modified duty tasks to help return the employee to the workforce as they recover, and to make accurate comparisons of physical abilities as they relate to essential job demands during a Functional Capacity Evaluation.
Gov. Murphy signs A2617 providing preference to employees who have reached MMI
The additional change to NJ Worker’s Compensation occurred in September of this year when Governor Phil Murphy signed A2617 which provides injured workers who have reached MMI hiring preference when they can no longer return to the position in which they were injured. The law does not fully define how the practice of providing preference to these employees will be implemented. The law applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
However, the one area that is defined within the law is that the injured employee must be able to meet the essential functions of the position for which they are applying.
“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.”
This new law adds additional importance for an employer to have accurate, objective, and up to date job descriptions for each job title within their organization. Job descriptions should accurately define the minimum essential physical and postural demands related to the essential tasks performed within a job title. The descriptions should be kept up to date and take into account changes in policies, procedures, and even the items utilized to perform tasks – we have seen that shortages of supplies and mitigation procedures have altered how job tasks are performed. If these changes have become permanent in nature, the job description should reflect those changes and not reflect how the job was performed several years ago.
NJ Ergonomics can help employers to better define their job descriptions with accurate and objective measurements of essential job tasks as measured onsite for an employer. We can assist with helping employers put together defensible post-offer pre-employment testing programs to help identify whether job candidates meet the essential physical and postural demands of the position for which they are being hired.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.