June Is National Safety Month

What is your company/organization doing for National Safety Month?

This is great opportunity to look at your work place to make changes that reduce the risk of injuries.

From ergonomic walkthroughs to material handling classes as well as job safety assessments and office/industrial ergonomics assessments, we can help you reduce risk of injuries for your employees.

Give us a call.

Our drivers undergo DOT medical exams, why should we have them undergo a Post-Offer Physical Abilities Test?

This is a question that we have heard over the years from companies that require a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) for employees in certain job titles – whether they are bus/transport vehicle drivers or public works employees. For many positions that involve driving certain classes of vehicles, the state or federal government require a driver to have a CDL. One component of obtaining and maintaining a CDL is undergoing a DOT medical examination with a DOT certified provider.

The main purpose of a DOT medical examination as part of obtaining/maintaining a CDL is to ensure that a driver is medically safe to operate the vehicles within the classification of their license.  Priority areas of a DOT medical exam include assessments of vision, hearing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health history, metabolic health history (ex. diabetes), and an overall physical assessment. An assessment of the upper and lower extremities checks for muscle weakness or loss of limbs. While range of motion is addressed in a DOT medical examination, it is to determine whether the examinee has any potential range of motion issues that the DOT examiner may feel are detrimental to their ability to operate trucks and passenger buses.  While an employer may be sending a driver for an exam, the examiner is not evaluating based on specific job demands.

Concrete Mixer-Drivers have to be able to lower a ladder at the rear of the vehicle.

The DOT medical examination does not address specific range of motion issues related to ingress/egress for specific types of vehicles (how high is the first step and the grab handles), the range of motion required to operate controls on specific vehicles, or the strength and range of motion related requirements to perform employer specific tasks (loading/unloading products/materials, securing items, operating controls, moving hoses, pulling down ladders, etc.).  A job specific post-offer physical pre-employment evaluation (or depending upon the situation, Return To Work FCE or Fit For Duty FCE) can address the examinee’s ability to perform the essential minimum postural and physical demands of the position. Employers should have a customized job description that includes objective measurements of the essential minimum physical and postural demands of the job title. These measurements should be collected using the vehicles, equipment, and other items that are used by the employer and employees when performing their job.

Obtaining a DOT medical certification does not necessarily mean that a driver can meet the essential postural and physical demands of a customized job description.  Conversely, meeting the essential postural and physical demands of a customized job description does not mean that a driver will be able to successfully pass a DOT medical examination (a variety of medical conditions are automatic exclusions in DOT medical examinations or require physician approved waivers).

NJ Ergonomics can assist with the documentation of objective measurement of physical and postural demands of job tasks as well as generation of Post-Offer Pre-Employment physical abilities testing protocols that are based on the essential demands of a job title.

Important NJ Worker’s Comp Changes for 2022

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 Job Description May No Longer Be Current

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.

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.

“Average-weight objects” and Job Descriptions

Job descriptions like this that use terms such as “average-weight objects” and moderate physical activity are difficult for treating physicians and physical therapists when helping to return an injured employee to work.

Vague job descriptions impact treatment and return to work testing (a Functional Capacity Evaluation works best when there are objective minimum essential demands available for comparing the employee’s ability to push, pull, lift, carry, etc.). It is much more helpful for a physical therapist to understand the physical and postural demands when planning rehab activities and understanding goals.

But, in NJ, these vague descriptions may play out well past the end of treatment. Governor Murphy signed A2617/S-2998 which amends the Workers Compensation laws to provide a hiring “preference” to those who have reached MMI but were not returned to their job position. While the mechanics of this “preference” have not been defined, it does include language that the individual must meet the essential functions of the position:

“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.”

Take a look at your job descriptions to see if the essential functions have been defined to include essential minimum physical and postural demands.

If you are not sure, we can help review your job descriptions. If you haven’t defined the essential physical and postural demands within your job descriptions, we can help measure those demands.

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.

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.

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