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.

#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.