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.

“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 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.