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.