Dictionary of Occupational Titles versus Rodeo Clown

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

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

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

What Does The DOT Tell Us About Rodeo Clowns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodeo clown runs away (quickly) from a bull.


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

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

Upcoming

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

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

The Devil Is In The Details

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

Hidden Information On What May Be Carried


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

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

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

Issues With Carrying

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

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

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

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

Issues With Lifting

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

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

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

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

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

What About Pushing And Pulling?

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

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

The Climbing Section Is Good

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

“Please Do Not Lick Me”

A favorite BBQ place of mine, Mainely Meat on Mt. Desert Island in Maine,  has a silhouette of a Sasquatch in the middle of its outside dining area.  It’s a fun thing to put the kids next to for a picture.  One day, last summer, I was seated behind the Sasquatch and noticed some writing on the back.  It said “Please don’t lick me.”  It was one of those things that I was not going to be able to let go of without finding out the story.

“Please Do Not Lick Me” written on back of Sasquatch – all because someone licked Sasquatch.

When I asked the waitress, she said that they felt that they had to place the instructions on Sasquatch after they brought out an order to a table, only to find somebody licking Sasquatch.  She finished the story with “I never thought I’d have to tell people to not lick a big wooden silhouette of Sasquatch.” 

At that point, I looked at a friend who was dining with us and we both laughed.  He is a park ranger and we have both sat down numerous times to share stories of people doing silly things that should have never happened in the first place.

I was sharing this story recently when I was out in the field doing interviews of personnel to write a job description for a public works department.  The two employees laughed, started to say that something like that would never happen, and then began to remember some things that they have seen and agreed with my comment that most rules are put in place because of somebody doing something that wasn’t the brightest idea.

At the most simple level, we all deal with this when buying electronics and footwear.  Almost all shoes come with a silica gel pack to absorb moisture emblazoned with the instructions “Do Not Eat”.  The gel packs are not poisonous but the beads don’t break down and can become a choking hazard – this happens more frequently than one would expect.

Often, TV commercials have disclaimers to remind viewers that a car or motorcycle was driven at high performance levels on closed tracks and that you shouldn’t try it at home or if you aren’t a professional stunt driver.

A warning statement because somebody might try to travel back to the future in a Delorean.

Recently, popular culture has had several products that have been involved in dangerous fads, such as eating Tide pods.  It doesn’t take much to know that consuming a Tide pod is a bad idea but some people still tried it anyway.  With the recent pandemic, this has extended to drinking bleach or consuming other chemicals in hopes of preventing an infection.

There is a great Twitter feed, @safetyphoto that reinforces the concept that sometimes we need to remind people not to do something – even though we think that nobody would try doing it.  If you’ve had the thought that nobody would be dumb enough to try a certain action, you probably need a sign because it isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.  In the field, I have had people explain to me how they perform certain tasks and then they stop to think for a minute about the process they shared.  That pause is typically followed with “You don’t work for OSHA, do you?”

Feel free to share your stories of “things you thought people wouldn’t do” in the comments. 

Don’t Forget Hand Sanitizer May Be Flammable

Last week, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America put out a reminder that hand sanitizers that contain alcohol are flammable.

Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that individuals in clinical settings should be using hand sanitizer (an alcohol based hand rub with greater than 60% ethanol or greater than 70% isopropyl alcohol) due to greater compliance over soap and water.  If hands are visibly soiled or if an alcohol based hand rub are not available, hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

When using an alcohol based hand rub, you need to make sure that your hands are dry and all of the alcohol has evaporated off before touching anything.  The MCAA put out the reminder that hand sanitizers with alcohol are flammable due to an incident where an employee used hand sanitizer per guidelines to sanitize his hands.  However, the alcohol had not evaporated off of his hands when he touched a metal surface.  The remaining alcohol in the hand sanitizer on his hands was ignited by static electricity.  The employee was able to get to a sink and extinguish the flames however he suffered first and second degree burns on his hands.

When using hand sanitizer please be aware of any risks of flames or sparks and make sure that you allow your hands to fully dry before touching anything that can generate a spark or a static discharge.

20-038-Hand-Sanitizer-Hazard

20-038-Hand-Sanitizer-Hazard

Looking For A Longer Term Shelter In Place Work Chair?

When I initially posted about “virtual school” ergonomics in March, it was with the intent that those tips would be a temporary fix. Ordering office equipment and supplies from places like Amazon isn’t any quicker than it was back in March at the early stages of sheltering in place, but for many states it looks like many of us will be working from home for a while longer.

I’ve been seeing posts and hearing that the kitchen chair or bench at the table isn’t really working out any more and that aches and pains are starting to become a little more chronic. This is not a surprise as these chairs aren’t made for sitting in all day long. The good news is this is a problem that can be corrected. Where and how you sit is an important part of reducing aches and pains.

The before and after photo below shows a couple of quick changes with setting up a temporary home workstation.

savannah ipad before and after

While this photo illustrates using an iPad and keyboard, the process is the same when using a laptop.  On the left, the chair is set too low and the feet are not adequately supported.  With some adjustments, the feet are supported and the chair is at a better height for using the keyboard without stressing the wrists, elbows, or shoulders.  With the display slightly higher, there is less flexion of the neck and the back posture is improved.  With a regular kitchen chair, it would be much more difficult to improve sitting posture for using a keyboard without adjusting the desk height.

A good chair for performing desk work should:

  • Allow you to maintain a good neutral posture with the ears over the shoulders and the shoulders over the hips.
  • Allow you to adjust the height to get you to an appropriate height for using the keyboard and mouse.
  • Provide adjustable back rest support to allow the back rest to be upright or slightly reclined.
    • Provide adjustable support for your lumbar spine.
  • Have a seat pan that supports the upper legs and provides a 2 to 4 finger gap between the front edge of the seat pan and your knees.  This helps to make sure that the seat isn’t too short and not supporting your thighs as well as not being too long and reducing blood flow at the knees.
  • Have your knees slightly lower than your hips.
  • Provide adjustable arm rests that can raise to a level that support your arms when typing at the computer.
  • Has a weight capacity that will accommodate anybody that will be using it.  The hydraulic cylinder that allows the chair to raise and lower has a weight capacity (typically between 250-275 pounds) but stronger cylinders are available based on user weight.

The Kroy Mesh Task Chair from Staples is a solid, basic ergonomic chair with a reasonable price for home usage.  It has adjustable arms, lumbar support, and the main hydraulic cylinder can accommodate users up to 275 pounds.   (Note:  I have no affiliation with Staples and do not earn anything from any purchases via the link.)

The image below demonstrates optimal angles for sitting and standing when using the computer. As mentioned above, when sitting, the ears should be over the shoulders and shoulders over the hips. The keyboard should be at a height that allows your elbow to be flexed between 90 and 120 degrees (whether sitting or standing).

basic sitting and standing postures

What about my feet touching the floor?

You shouldn’t let your feet dangle in the air. If your feet don’t touch the floor once you have adjusted your chair for your workspace (correct height for using the computer keyboard and mouse and performing other tasks on your work surface), you need to use a footrest to support your feet. A box or a stack of books work as a good temporary foot rest. Ideally, an adjustable height foot rest, such as the Eureka Ergonomic Tilt Adjustable Footrest, works best as it is easier to adjust to the appropriate height for a range of users.  (Again, I do not receive any compensation for these linked items.)

What if I have to use my kitchen chair?

While not ideal, using your kitchen chair is not the end of the world.  If you can add a thin seatpad to cushion the seat and a lumbar pad or lumbar pillow to support your back, you can make your kitchen chair comfortable for longer stretches.  Make sure that you have a box or footrest to support your feet.

What else should I know about being more comfortable in my chair at home?

Get out of your chair at least once an hour to move around and stretch.  If you didn’t spend the bulk of your work day sitting in your normal work environment, you won’t be used to sitting all day at home.  Walk around the room a little bit.  Do some easy backward bends and bend forward towards your toes.  Remember when you are stretching, you should feel slight discomfort but not pain.

A few additional resources

“Virtual School” Ergonomics – This blog post discusses best improvised setups for using tablets and laptop computers, raising the laptop to a better display height, and adjusting the chair and footrest.  It also covers improving ergonomics if you have to use a couch as a workstation.

Here is a powerpoint presentation on SlideShare that I have put together that explains some ergonomic basics for improving your temporary workstation, including converting a kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Too Early To Start Teaching Basic Safety

Sometimes the fun activities that our kids become involved in provide lessons well beyond what we would expect. Some of these lessons are well known – many sports help to teach kids discipline and teamwork. Scouting helps to teach a variety of basic principles including many involving safety – I know that my son and his friends took all of the lessons from earning their Whittling Chips seriously. We still hear them reminding each other of the blood circle (for those without scouts, this is the circle that one can make with an extended arm and a carving knife – the rule is everyone needs to be out of each other’s blood circle).

Over the last couple of months, I’ve realized that my son’s newest hobby is teaching him many advanced safety lessons that will carry over well when gets older. Much of it is safety training that should be taught to adults on worksites.

My 11 year old son recently acquired a Traxxas Slash RC car through a lot of saving and a lot of chores. While learning how to cut the grass and the associated safety issues with lawn mowers is a post for a different day, this whole process has been a learning experience for him.

One of the chores was cutting the grass, which helped to teach him about lawn mower safety and the use of some basic PPE – eye protection and ear protection. Most modern lawn mowers include their own version of a simple “lock out tag out” in that an additional handle needs to be held in the closed position to operate and if it is let go, the mower shuts down. This is a good start to understanding that certain tools should only be energized when being operated in a safe manner.

When he received his Slash, he learned several new safety concepts. The first has to do with batteries and charging. His slightly older cousin, who is also involved in RC cars, had warned him that you need to be careful with Lithium Ion RC car batteries. With a little bit of extra research, my son has learned that you need to physically inspect the battery pack on a regular basis to make sure that there is no physical damage to the battery. Each time he either plugs in the battery or unplugs the battery, he checks the battery to make sure that there are no bulges in the battery or damage to the battery that causes the casing to open. He has also learned that care needs to be taken in charging batteries through using appropriate battery chargers and using a fire resistant battery charging case to reduce the risk of damage in the event of problems.  Everything in the list below while directed towards the use of an RC car can be applied to most tools used in the workplace:

  • Never leave batteries to charge unattended.
  • Remove the batteries from the model while charging.
  • Allow the battery packs to cool off between runs (before charging).
  • Always unplug the battery from the electronic speed control when the model is not in use and when it is being stored or transported.
  • Do not use battery packs that have been damaged in any way.
  • Do not use battery packs that have damaged wiring, exposed wiring, or a damaged connector

The second concept is an extension of the “lock out tag out” concept that I mentioned earlier is getting reinforced for him with his RC car. RC cars are paired to their controllers which allows multiple cars to be operated by multiple users in the same area. As a result, he has learned that when he is turning on his car, the controller gets turned on before the speed controller on the car is powered on. This prevents the car from running out of control when it is turned on. While this is not “lock out tag out” in the traditional sense, it has taught him to always think about procedures when turning things on and off as well as making sure that motors and controls are de-energized before working on them.

The third concept that he has learned from using his RC car involves situational awareness. At the most basic level, he has learned to know the limits of the radio control of his car both from radio distance and visual limitations so that he does not operate the car unsafely in a way that can hurt other people or damage other property or his car. More importantly, he has learned to be aware of any potential issues in the area in which he is operating his car – he has developed a solid idea of whether he has enough room to operate the car or if there are objects in the area that represent a danger to himself, others, or his car.

I’m glad that he is learning these in a way that he is able to understand how basic safety rules work and is able to understand the next phases of those rules. This learning process has been helpful because it is not just me as a parent putting a rule in place. He sees the rules in the manual for his car and has begun to understand how they keep him safe, keep others around him safe, and protect his investment in his car.  The fact that he is learning them while having fun makes me hopeful that they will continually be reinforced for him – I know that I have seen him explain these concepts to friends when they use his car.

traxxasDSC_0098-Recovereda