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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a slightly different Friday Five. I’m not going to post a check of what is new in the research in the areas of ergonomics and safety. This week will be a quick recap of what I think were five important takeaways from the conference that I attended yesterday – “Everything You Wanted To Know About New Jersey Workers Compensation” which was hosted by John Geaney from Capehart Scatchard and Millenium Seminars. If you aren’t following John’s blog on workers compensation, you should be.
“Recovery on the job” – Trudy Mandia from AtlantiCare
I tweeted about this yesterday. I hate the term “light duty”. So many people get wrapped up with the word light with a lot getting it confused with the term “light work” which is considered to be a job with an occasional lift, push, pull, carry demand of 20 pounds. Everyone tends to get wrapped up on the restrictions on an individual when they hear “light duty”. Over the years, I have been on a mission to reframe the term as modified duty which is not so wrapped up in the restrictions on demands. But, I love the term that Trudy talked about from AtlantiCare’s standpoint. They no longer use the term light duty and have replaced it with “Recovery on the job” with the focus being on an individual’s current abilities and not focusing on what they can not currently do.
“Make sure that it isn’t boxes just being clicked”
Dr. Dwyer from Premier Orthopedics mentioned the reminder that with so many medical records being generated by different EMR packages, sometimes practitioners can end up clicking through. Make sure that the physicians and therapists are being accurate when they are completing medical records in an EMR system and that they are also indicating both active and passive range of motion of the injured body part at all visits.
“Make sure that your employees know how long light duty will last”
This topic came up across multiple discussions through out the day because it is that important. This is something that we tell clients that we meet with when we are talking about both regular job descriptions and tasks that might be available for modified duty. Leaving an employee in a modified duty position for an indeterminate length makes some employees want to remain in that position for the remainder of their employment and also makes it easy to argue that the “modified duty position” is essential if an employee is left in that position for a prolonged duration of time.
Another topic that was mentioned several times because as John said yesterday, good job descriptions are the building block for creating a workers compensation program. I’ve written about customized job descriptions multiple times on this blog, but members of yesterday’s panels provided reminders that good, solid, accurate job descriptions allow:
The physicians and physical therapists do their jobs to get the injured employee back to the essential demands of the position.
Allow physicians, employers, and case managers to possibly get an injured employee on modified duty when it becomes appropriate and helps to allow for progression of modified duty over the treatment timeline
Is necessary for having an effective interactive dialogue when the issues of accommodations comes up.
Need to accurately reflect current essential postural and physical tasks that are performed.
The issue of communication came up in several panel discussions during the day. Communication between the employer, the case manager, the physician, the physical therapist, and the employee is key in moving towards a successful end state for an injury claim.
I was glad to hear that having a bilingual staff member to help with the communications process with injured workers at the Tropicana has made a big improvement in their program. I know that in the provision of FCEs, we have been grateful when a translator has been provided if a claimant does not speak English but provision of a translator is not a common occurence. Having a translator can make things go much easier and quicker when everyone is on the same page.
Make sure that you communicate your modified duty program guidelines to your injured employee when it is offered and put it in writing. This helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
This is just a small sampling of some of the important topics that were discussed during the course of the day. These one day conferences are a great opportunity to learn from the speakers, the attendees as they ask questions/make comments, and during the breaks to learn from the vendors and the attendees.
(A photo I took during a previous conference in Atlantic City but yesterday’s weather conditions were similar)