The widespread occurrences of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the United States is costing industries billions of dollars annually in loss time direct and indirect costs. Numerous medical studies have implicated poor work design, unsafe work behaviors, and poor physical fitness as contributory to the development of the vast majority of MSDs. Poor lifestyle habits such as poor nutrition, over-eating and avoidance of exercise has led to a virtual epidemic of obesity in this country. The Surgeon General reported that more than 60% of adults are overweight and physically unfit. At the same time, the Bureau of labor Statistics (BLS) reports that approximately one half of all workers compensation costs are attributable to MSDs (i.e., back and neck injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis and other disorders of the musculoskeletal system). The most common MSDs experienced by the work force today affect the neck, back, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and knees. The increase incidences and severity rates of MSDs today have been the primary drivers of increased awareness of applied ergonomics by management and particularly, SH& E professionals.
The purpose of this paper is to describe a functional testing process that can be legally and effectively used to identify whether or not an individual is able to perform the essential physical functions of a particular job prior to job placement. This process involves assessing a person's functional capabilities and identifying any existing physical deficits in order to determine whether or not a person can safely perform the essential functions of a job. The functional testing program described in this paper is designed to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and avoid disparate discrimination as required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This type of testing can identify persons who have cardiovascular and/or musculoskeletal disorders and who may be exposed to imminent risk of injury. It can also be used to establish a baseline profile of employees to aid in the rehabilitation should they become injured and to provide accurate accommodations required for people who may have disabilities protected by the ADA. It is opined by the author, based on over 15 years experience of using this testing process with numerous industrial clients, that job-specific functional testing is highly effective at properly matching employees to job demands, reducing injuries, and improving work productivity when designed and applied correctly.
With particular concern about an increasingly aging work population and job applicants who may have significant medical conditions already in existence at the time of hire, approaches to reduce the risk of injuring a new hire have become a nation-wide priority among industries. The cost of loss time and related medical expenses associated with MSDs to American employers is astounding. In 2002, American industries spent a whopping trillion dollars on healthcare and workers compensation mostly on illnesses and injuries.