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WorkWell's Workplace Injury Prevention Blog

The Best Way to Reduce Work Injuries May Be Functional Job Descriptions

Functional Job DescriptionsWhen making a hiring decision, you want to select the best person for the job based on the candidate's skills, availability, and years of experience. Most importantly, you should consider the candidate's ability to safely and repeatedly perform the work duties based on a firm understanding of the job's physical demands.

Qualifying workers' physical abilities should be an essential part of any organization's safety culture and pre-employment screening process. Otherwise, the new employee may struggle and get injured on the job. Also, if the new hire isn't capable of doing the job, other employees may have to work harder to compensate, impacting their morale and overall safety.

Given the high rate of musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries that can occur within the first year of employment, hiring a qualified worker at the start can save time, reduce employee turnover, and decrease employer costs.

The Role and Benefits of the Functional Job Description

That's where the functional job description (FJD) proves its worth. Based on a formal analysis of the job's requirements, the FJD includes details of the critical demands required of a particular job and specific movements that workers may encounter on the job, such as essential movements, loads, environmental and physical demands. It is a foundational element in any safety culture.

While a standard job description is typically written by HR, a functional job analysis is usually created by someone trained in human movement and physiology, often from outside the company, such as a physical therapist or healthcare provider. These professionals have the training and know-how to objectively measure and document a job's physical demands, such as lifting forces, grip forces, distances traveled, and positioning such as reaching, kneeling, and stooping.

Facilitating Return to Work Processes

Medical professionals can also use FJDs to determine if an injured employee can return to work with or without workplace accommodations such as transitional work or job modifications. Even if the worker cannot fully perform their previous role, a Functional Job Description can document a set of "suitable duties" they can complete safely. This is especially useful if the employee has been away from work for an extended period.

Functional Job Descriptions in the Food Distribution Industry

For example, let's look at food distributors -- a fast-paced, labor-intensive industry that stores and transports items from producers to foodservice operators. Their warehouses stock many types of products, staffed with workers who "pick and pack" items to deliver to stores, cafeterias, and restaurants, keeping the foodservice supply chain moving.

A food warehouse worker's job description may outline duties such as: receiving and processing incoming stock, picking, packing, and shipping orders, and more. The FJD will further define physical job requirements such as: ascending/descending a flight of stairs 6-8 times per shift; lifting nearly 40-pound boxes from a pallet on the floor to a shelf 40" high, 3-4 times per hour, and standing on your feet 5-6 hours per shift. These additional details present the critical demands of the warehouse position so that qualified candidates are hired.

Functional Job Descriptions Fit Workers into Suitable Roles

By validating essential job functions and tasks, physical therapists can define performance expectations for workers, recommend workplace interventions that promote safety and administer functional employment exams. These steps can reduce MSK risks and result in appropriate work assignments for employees.

WorkWell has extensive experience developing functional job descriptions and pre-employment screening procedures for job candidates. To learn how we helped a National Food Distributor implement an effective pre-employment screening program across fourteen locations, download our case study.

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