Using Physical Demands Analysis to Reduce Injuries and Costs

Arielle West, DPT
Senior Solutions Strategist, VelocityEHS
Dr. James Rethaber, Ph.D., CPE, LSSMBB
Vice President, Technical Operations, Fit for Work
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When it comes to injuries, especially musculoskeletal disorders, a physical demands analysis (PDA) can be an extremely helpful and useful tool. Not only can it help reduce the number of injuries in an organization, but by doing so, it will also help deliver significant cost savings.

A PDA quantifies the essential demands required by an employee for a job. The data within a PDA can also be used as legally defensible documentation when necessary. A PDA has many applications; the two most common are matching an employee to the right job during the hiring process and returning an employee back to work after an injury. How does a PDA do this?

A PDA helps match an employee to the right job through:

  • Providing accurate, detailed job descriptions
  • Linking an employee’s physical capabilities directly with essential requirements of the job
  • Providing accurate data for downstream testing procedures, such as pre-employment screening and post-offer employment testing (POET)

A PDA helps return an employee back to work after an injury, faster and safer by:

  • Objectively determining an employee’s current ability (post-injury) to perform essential requirements of the job
  • Identifying any necessary job modifications or accommodations to help avoid re-injury
  • Providing accurate data for downstream testing procedures, such as Fit for Duty testing and Functional Abilities Evaluation

How do the benefits of a PDA translate into decreased injury rates and higher cost savings?

A PDA helps an organization reduce injuries and save costs by quantifying and categorizing the manual material handling aspects of the job, as well as positional tolerances (standing, walking, sitting, reaching, etc.). This provides injury prevention specialists with the data necessary to design, develop, implement and evaluate controls to reduce the risk of injury in the workplace. In an organization, this can be applied to:

  • Engineering: tools/equipment, work process design, workstation setup, etc.
  • Administrative: work hardening, team lifts, work shift design/modifications, etc.
  • Work Practice: development of best work practices, training, etc.
  • Supporting employment decisions by determining and classifying jobs based on the U.S. Dept. of Labor physical demand level (Sedentary, Light, Medium, Heavy, Very Heavy), as well as fine motor intensive, gross motor, sitting jobs, standing jobs, etc. This helps to ensure the work environment is more inclusive for employees, as well as ensuring they are not working in jobs that they are not physically capable of performing.

    The results of a scientifically rigorous physical demands analysis can be utilized for physical abilities testing to employ candidates capable of performing the physical requirements of the essential functions of the job. They can also be utilized as the basis for developing training camps/mock assembly to prepare new and existing employees to be successful in jobs with different physical demands. In the event of injury, the physical demands analysis provides healthcare professionals with an accurate depiction of the physical requirements of a job for return-to-work criteria to ensure the employee is physically capable of safely returning to work.

    A physical demands analysis, when done correctly, can serve as a critical tool to help place employees in the correct job, significantly reducing risk and cost of injury. Ultimately, this allows for a healthier, happier, more productive workforce.

    *The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*

    By: Arielle West, DPT
    Senior Solutions Strategist, VelocityEHS

    Arielle helps lead the overall vision and strategy for health and ergonomics solutions as well as provides subject matter expertise in healthcare, health and wellness, human movement analysis, and more. Arielle previously worked for Kinetica Labs on their business development team. She supported their ergonomics product, as well as led their expansion into the digital health and healthcare technology markets, utilizing machine learning and motion capture technology. VelocityEHS acquired Kinetica Labs in 2021.

    Arielle is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), and received her degree from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a licensed physical therapist in California and Massachusetts, with specialties in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), orthopedics and sports medicine.

    By: Dr. James Rethaber, Ph.D., CPE, LSSMBB
    Vice President, Technical Operations, Fit for Work

    Dr. Rethaber provides strategic direction for the safety, ergonomics and testing departments/initiatives, as well as process mapping and streamlining of processes to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness for Fit for Work clients. Dr. Rethaber also oversees the onboarding and continuing education initiatives to assist Fit For Work staff with ever-changing/evolving needs of internal and external clients. Prior to joining Fit For Work in 2007, Dr. Rethaber worked in the education and healthcare fields. He has over 20 years of experience in the fields of engineering, psychology and musculoskeletal injury prevention.

    Dr. Rethaber has a Bachelor of Science degree in sports medicine, a Master of Science degree in exercise physiology, a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering, a Master of Science degree in applied psychology and a Ph.D. in human performance technology (training & development). Dr. Rethaber is a Board-Certified Professional Ergonomist (CPE) and is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Dr. Rethaber serves on industry advisory boards at Texas A&M University – College Station and Texas State University – San Marcos and is a former member of the board of directors with the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics.

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