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.

Words Matter – Switching to Physical Distancing from Social Distancing

With over 15 years of writing job descriptions, post-offer testing, FCE experiences and ergonomic evaluations, you learn that in the world of workers compensation, physical rehab, and the legal realms that swirl between that words matter. We try to get people to use the term “modified duty” instead of “light duty” because the latter has been accepted by some to mean performing job demands with minimal physical requirements (some look at it as 20 pounds occasional, many look at light duty as 10 pounds or less). We’ve also tried to move people from “Pass/Fail” to “Meets/Does Not Meet” as the former is more about the individual and the latter is more about the actual demands of the position.

Mark Milligan (@MarkMilliganDPT) is an innovative DPT down in Austin, Texas who has been trying to get people moving over the last couple of years through the #IMovedToday hashtag on Twitter and has been a huge advocate for mobile and virtual services through his anywhere.healthcare business and his physical therapy practice. Mark had a great idea that he shared on Twitter on March 20, 2020. He suggested getting rid of the term “social distancing” and replacing it with “physical distancing”. I think he is definitely on to something.

physical distancing

In thinking about it, physical distancing is a significantly better term. We’re talking about staying 6 feet away from people when out in public or if the person is symptomatic at least 10 feet away. Or in California and New York (and probably New Jersey in the near future), staying in when possible and shutting down non-essential businesses to limit exposure. Physical distancing just means we are separated by a physical separation of distance. Humans by nature are social. In times like this, we shouldn’t be distancing ourselves socially from each other. We need to be reaching out by phone, text, e-mail, Facetime, or Skype to check on relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Sometimes it may be just to say hello and check in but sometimes to let them vent or to vent to them. This is uncharted territory but communication and connection are two of the things that will help everyone get through this together.

 

“Orange Light Theory of Functional Fitness”

When we perform post-offer pre-employment physical ability tests, we remind applicants of the strength demands as defined by their potential new employer as we get to the strength portion of the test. While the main reason for telling them is so that we are clear and transparent about the expectations of the testing process, it also helps to set up a discussion with each applicant about their physical status.

Every post-offer applicant gets a quick reminder that if they are currently working out in a gym or at home, they should continue to do that once they start their new job. More importantly, they should not treat their job as a workout. If they aren’t currently working out, we tell them to go a gym, find a work out app to use at home, check out the available workout videos on places like YouTube or Amazon Prime Video, but most importantly to start doing something. Many of these come with position specific reminders – for patient transporters to start walking more if they don’t walk regularly because the position can require several miles of walking per shift, for train conductors to hit the stairs once in a while because their new employer has been adding as many double decker train cars as they possibly can, etc. The typical response is “I used to work out all the time but {insert some life event} got in the way….I swear as soon as I get this job, I will start working out, running, etc.”

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at from an employment standpoint or a health/fitness standpoint, we have been seeing a lot of people that are just that tiny bit stronger than the essential demands of their soon to be position require. This is good for them, because they pass this phase in the process of pursuing their new job. But, it is not a lot of cushion from a physical abilities standpoint. When we see areas that they can improve in strength in the data collected during the test, we try to share that with them, just as we try to share some better techniques with them if their positioning to lift from floor height could use some improvement.

But, a lot of people as soon as they are aware of the fact that they have demonstrated the required strength start to tune out those pieces of advice and the statement they made about working out after getting the job has already started to fade into distant echoes. Because of this, I have tried getting a little more creative in trying to get these new hire candidates to understand the importance of keeping in shape and maybe even increasing their strength a little bit more.

 

My new go to explanation for the need to increase strength is the “Orange Light Theory” – almost everyone that comes through our doors, whether they drive or not, knows what it means when that little orange light begins to glow on the dashboard. The tank isn’t empty yet, but a gas station better be in the near future or there will be a problem. For those candidates who just squeak by on the essential demands by a couple of pounds of lifting or carrying strength, I explain to them that they passed – they still have gas – but that the orange light is on. They need to get a little stronger so that they have a reserve of strength to help them on those days when they work overtime or when they have to pick up the slack because someone called out sick, or when the unexpected happens like pipes bursting and causing a lot of work to happen in a short time – or more importantly, having the energy at the end of the day to play with their kids.   Giving them this visual seems to help put their current strength in a context that they can understand better.

While testing applicants to determine whether or not they meet the essential physical and postural demands for a position is the reason for performing a post-offer pre-employment physical abilities test, it is a great opportunity to help give enough knowledge to applicants to give them a reason to take ownership of their physical fitness so that hopefully, they don’t return to us for a functional capacity evaluation due to an injury.

An orange light comes on to let drivers know that they are almost out of fuel.
That pesky orange light comes on and lets you know that you are almost empty. We need to have a high enough fitness level to limit our body’s orange light from needing to come on while performing work related tasks.

Human Factors at The Oscars

Steven Shorrock provides a great look into what went on with the mishandled envelope at the Oscars leading to the announcement of an incorrect winner by Warren Beatty.

Humanistic Systems

5121440257_e81647480b_o.jpg Photo: Craig Piersma CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/8NyHL6

“An extraordinary blunder”

It has variously been described as “an incredible and almost unbelievable gaffe” (Radio Times), the greatest mistake in Academy Awards history” (Telegraph), “an extraordinary blunder…an unprecedented error” (ITV News), “the most spectacular blunder in the history of the starry ceremony” and “the most awkward, embarrassing Oscar moment of all time: an extraordinary failure” (Guardian).

It was, of course, the Grand Finale of the Oscars 2017.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are all set to announce the best picture win. Beatty begins to read out the winners card. But he looks visibly puzzled, pausing and looking in the envelope to see if there is anything else that he’s missed. He begins to read out the winners card, “And the Academy Award…”…

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The most important Super Bowl viewers

Over the last decade, the issue of concussions in professional football has been addressed in books, movies, lawsuits, and significant coverage in the news media.

While nobody is fully sure of the best way to completely address the issue and minimize the risk of concussions during play and practice, the NFL instituted an important program in 2012 to become more proactive in addressing potential concussion situations during games.  The NFL began placing certified athletic trainers (ATCs) in the stadiums to view games with the purpose of looking at both the in-game contact as well as player behavior after plays and along the sidelines.

The inclusion of these healthcare professionals was a result of a hit to Browns quarterback Colton McCoy during a late season game in  December 2011 after the institution of a video review system for injuries.  The hit that McCoy took was not noticed during the game but after the game.  The NFL realized that a set of eyes were needed to review potential issues in real time.  The ATC spotters observe both the game and video feed from the broadcast coverage in real time to identify plays that may result in concussion or injury whether it is from player to player contact or contact with the ground.  The ATCs then contact either the team medical staff or the unaffiliated neurotruama consultant to advise them of what was observed.  These calls can not be handled by bench staff from the team.  The ATCs also instruct technicians to send the video of the specific incident to the sidelines for medical staff to include in their evaluation of the athlete.  According to the NFL, approximately 10 plays per game initiate this process.  ATC spotters can also initiate a medical timeout.  These timeouts are not charged to either team.

While there are several criteria for ATCs who wish to apply to this program, I think the most interesting are:

  • At least 10 years experience – enough experience to really have an idea of what they are observing
  • Can not have been the Head Trainer for any NFL team previously
  • Can not have been employed by an NFL team in the last 20 years

I think the last two criteria that I mentioned are probably the best at showing a positive intent for this program by the NFL.  These two criteria help to minimize the impact that past relationships with teams and/or players may have on an ATC Spotters observations.

While this is a great program and the NFL appears to have done a great job in keeping the program impartial and they have empowered the ATCs with the authority to stop game play, this only addresses observational, subjective game day issues.  It still does not provide an objective and measured value to the cumulative impacts that occur during the game – or more importantly, the significant hours of practice and seasons of games that comprise a player’s career.

Helmet impact sensors like those from Shockbox may help to provide a more objective dataset to determine the amount of cumulative impacts that a player goes through during the course of games and practices.  The US military has been studying head trauma through the use of helmet sensors since 2007 and began collaborating with the NFL in 2012 to better advance the science and address the issues.

The US Army had been using helmet based sensors in Afghanistan to measure blast pressures during IED events during combat patrols.  The sensors are triggered with forces greater than 150 newtons, which is the equivalent of just under 34 pounds of force.  Not a whole lot of force when compared to the forces of between 447 pounds and 1,066 pounds in boxers when punching.  However, a drawback to the Army/DARPA program was that it was only run in combat zones and did not take into account proximity and cumulative exposure to blast pressures when firing heavy weapons. The program was ended in late 2016.

There is one five year study that was done at University of North Carolina that looked at not just game day impacts but also the hits sustained during practice sessions.  The data that they collected shows some interesting data points.  They found that some impacts that were of significant force did not cause concussions while some lesser impacts that were below “threshold” did cause concussions.  Within these below threshold concussions, they found that the area of the point of impact on the head is just as important as the amount of force.

We still have a lot to learn about the causes and effects of concussions as well as treatment post concussion (as we’ve pointed out in a Friday Five post).  But, we can take notes from the positive aspects of what the NFL has done so far with their ATC Spotter program in being more proactive in dealing with health related “workplace” issues.