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.

What Not To Do Wednesday – 5/24/17

Some days, what not to do is right in front of you.  When I was walking from the parking lot into the building, I noticed the ladder leaning against the building to access the roof.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the top of the ladder was extended just barely beyond the top edge of the wall.  It was not anywhere close to the minimum 3 feet that it should have extended past the access point between the ladder and the roof.

I went inside and grabbed my business partner to point out the ladder, but also to show him the new NIOSH Ladder Safety App.  It’s a simple but useful app that I’ve used out in the field on a couple of previous occasions to document fixed ladders on a worksite.  The nice thing about it is that it has a measuring tool that can tell you whether a ladder is placed at too shallow an angle, the appropriate angle, or too steep an angle.  When I placed my phone on the ladder, the ladder was at too shallow an angle – 72 degrees.  The shallow angle placement of the ladder is compounded by the fact that the feet of the ladder are placed on a downward sloping section of pavement.  Between the shallow angle, sloped pavement, and lack of ladder extension beyond the access point, this is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Correcting these mistakes is a simple fix:

  • Extend the ladder further – there is still plenty of extension left in this ladder.
  • Check the angle of the ladder to make sure that it isn’t too shallow or too steep.  The NIOSH Ladder Safety App is free and easy to use.  Almost everyone has a smart phone so there is no excuse not to use the app.

What Not To Do Wednesday – 3/15/17

A recent article in The Daily Meal focused on bad kitchen hygiene habits that can be observed by watching most of the television shows featuring celebrity chefs.  These habits include unsafe handling of meats and vegetables, lack of personal protective equipment (gloves), and unsafe techniques for tasting food while cooking.  The article points out that a reminder during the show about safe techniques could go along way to prevent unsafe and unhealthy techniques being used for cooks at home.  A “Don’t Do What I Do” reminder, if you will.

The celebrity food shows are not the only media in which poor or unsafe techniques are shown.

chip on top step of ladder

I hate to pick on Fixer Upper (it’s a favorite show in our home) as Chip’s goofiness is always the source of a few laughs.  But, this morning as my kids were watching a rerun, I heard him discuss some issues with the roof of a house that they were renovating.  When the word “ladder” came across the speaker of the television, I knew that I needed to take a quick peak.  I grabbed a quick picture with my cell phone as I saw them pull out the sketchy wooden A-frame ladder which was well below the roof line of the house.  Not only did Chip stand on the top step of the ladder with not great holding by his wife, he used this top step as a launching point to climb on to the roof.

In defense of Fixer Upper, almost every home improvement/home repair show on HGTV and DIY features moments just like this one – whether it is with ladders, saws, hammers, etc.  As Joanna Fantozzi of The Daily Meal pointed out in her article, a quick reminder of safety principles could go along way towards better safety practices of homeowners as they are attempting to do home renovations and repairs.

While This Old House may not be as fun and glitzy as its HGTV relatives, they include a lot of safety information as they take on different tasks on the show.

Ladder accidents cause nearly 500,000 injuries per year and the rate of ladder injuries has been increasing every year.  A significant portion of these injuries are not work related and occur at home.

There are several simple solutions to reducing the number of ladder related injuries:

  • Use the right type of ladder.
    • Use wood or fiberglass ladders when dealing with electricity.
    • Make sure that the ladder is of sufficient height for the task being performed.
    • Make sure that the ladder has a sufficient strength rating for the weight of the user and and tools/materials that are being carried or used.
  • Make sure that the ladder is in good shape.
    • If the ladder is worn or damaged, make sure that the ladder is repaired to manufacturer standards or replaced.
  • Make sure that you are using the ladder properly.
    • Maintain 3 points of contact when climbing.
    • Don’t reach out of your base of support.
    • When necessary, climb down, move the ladder, and climb again.
  • Make sure that you use proper ladder placement.
    • Place ladder on firm, even ground.
    • Use an assistant/helper to support the base of the ladder to prevent slipping.
    • Don’t place the ladder in front of doors that have not been secured.

One last suggestion comes from a recent paper in Injury by Ackland et al.  In their review of admissions to intensive care units due to ladder related injuries, they recommend that ladder users wear helmets to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries in the event of a fall from a ladder.  They note that this is especially important in home based environments as typical worksite occupational health and safety regulations are not in effect.