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.

Friday Five -7/26/19


The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product or research paper.

Jodi Oakman et al. performed a 6 year study looking at issues of workability and musculoskeletal pain in a Finnish food industry company. They looked at the relationship between workability and musculoskeletal pain, physical work conditions, and psychosocial work conditions as well as what interventions made changes to workability levels. (Of note, this study was interesting to me as I have been working with an employer that has performed a musculoskeletal discomfort survey with its employees to help to identify tasks that may be contributing to musculoskeletal discomfort.)

A study by Sherry Hassam et al. looked at a 24 month intervention using the “Walking Works Wonders” program to evaluate changes to office based participants in a standard walking program and a tailored intervention program when compared to a control group.  While both exercise groups demonstrated improvements in measures of well being and resting heart rate, those in the tailored intervention demonstrated additional improvements in BMI measures and waist circumference.

A companion study to the above walking intervention study by Kazi et al. notes that sitting at work for the 1120 participants in the study accounted for nearly 60% of their daily sitting time and that those is sales and customer service positions have higher BMI and poorer health than those in other employment sectors.

Jesse Jacobs et al. looked at employee attitudes towards acceptance of wearable devices in the workplace.  They found that employers who want to implement wearables “should (a) focus its use on improving workplace safety, (b) advance a positive safety climate, (c) ensure sufficient evidence to support employees’ beliefs that the wearable will meet its objective, and (d) involve and inform employees in the process of selecting and implementing wearable technology.”

Xavier Robert-Lachaine et al. looked at the feasibility of using magnetic and inertial measurement units for analyzing performance of manual material handling tasks.  They found that while visualization of the data collected for the head, arms, and legs did not demonstrate significant visual difference from data collected visually by observers, there was a greater difference between visualization of data and observer’s evaluation of trunk movement.  They found that using these units can be acceptable, visual verification of the data is still important to ensure validity as magnetic disturbances can increase measurement error and affect collected data.

Friday Five – 3/17/17

The Friday Five is a set of five links that I have come across this week that pertain to ergonomics, occupational health, safety, human performance, or human factors.  For whatever reason, I found them interesting, but they are provided with minimal or no commentary and are not meant to be endorsement for a given product.

This week’s Five come from some of the newest additions to PubMed when using the search terms: ergonomics and workplace.

Shafti et al. looked at performance of work related tasks and levels of perceived discomfort (Borg scale) versus measurements from the Rapid Upper Limb Assessment and data collected from EMG sensors and electronic goniometers.  Not surprisingly, the RULA tool and data collected on muscle activity and joint angles were better at picking up small changes than the perceived discomfort described by the study subjects.

Khandan et al. utilized Fuzzy Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) to review job positions within a manufacturing facility to help determine which job titles would benefit from ergonomic interventions.  Often, clients realize that they have many positions that would benefit from ergonomic intervention but have limited funds to apply to interventions.  Tools such as this allow ergonomic professionals to better direct employers to the best application of limited intervention funds.  

This paper in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience by Nafizi et al.  looks at the muscle synergies that occur during slipping events.  Determining what happens in the initial microseconds of a slipping event can help lead to the development of strategies to reduce injuries during slip and fall events.

Irzmansk and Tokarski created a new method of ergonomic testing for gloves that protect and cuts and stab wounds when using knives.  One of the biggest issues with glove usage is that the design of gloves  can change muscle recruitment, usage, and fatigue patterns when compared to performance of the activity without glove usage.  Specialty gloves for butchers and fishmongers are designed to protect against injuries from knife usage hovewever they can increase the physical gripping demands of the task.  This study helps to better quantify these changes based on glove design.

A paper in Applied Ergonomics by Coenen et al. looks into the issues of “prolonged sedentary time” and reviewed occupational health and safety policies that relate to this issue.  No specific existing policies were found, however the authors note that the issue of prolonged sedentary behavior is one that needs to be researched and addressed.