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.

#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.