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WorkWell's Workplace Injury Prevention Blog

Why are Functional Job Descriptions the Foundation for Good Occupational Health?

Functional job descriptions have become a foundational element of occupational health. Functional job descriptions (FJD) document the physical demands of a job. It includes all movements associated with performing the job, such as twisting, stretching, climbing stairs, lifting loads, and the frequency of these actions while completing the job. This post explores how FJDs are used in almost every step of the employee journey.

Accurate FJDs Improve Hiring Decisions

FJDs are used during the recruitment and hiring process to ensure that the proposed worker can fulfill these tasks based on the applicant’s physical wellbeing.

Some firms use testing programs such as Post Offer Employment Testing (POET) to screen applicants’ qualifications. POET is the post-offer/pre-hire physical abilities examination that tests the employment candidate’s ability to perform the physical aspects defined by the functional job description. The job is contingent on passing the test.

The dual challenges of a tight labor market and the great resignation have increased stress on hiring and retention and changed employee screening patterns. As a result, some organizations have waived traditional post-offer employee testing with concerns that it creates friction in developing a workforce. However, we see that individuals not screened before starting work find jobs too physically demanding and end up quitting. Those who stay on are at risk for musculoskeletal injuries leading to absenteeism and employees resigning because it is too physically demanding.

New post-hire assessment programs, like WorkWell’s ErgoStart, incorporate job-specific ergonomic assessments and health strategies during orientation and onboarding. These assessment programs use FJDs as the foundation of their assessments to provide job modifications, accommodations, and specific exercises to avoid injuries.

FJDs Throughout the Employee Journey

Serving many functions, FJDs help medical professionals determine if injured employees can safely return to work and resume their duties or if they need a transition plan. Without FJDs, the treating clinician may incorrectly judge an injured worker’s return-to-work status.

By providing clear insight into the physical demands placed on the workforce, FJDs form the foundation for an organization’s occupational health services strategy. The information can help managers better understand the nature of occupational injuries and how to treat them.

When Performing Functional Job Analysis, Follow the Data

The FJD process starts with trained professionals performing a structured onsite Functional Job Analysis (FJA) to identify and objectively measure all the essential components of the job, including activities, motions, and postures. The detailed data-driven analysis ensures the final FJD document is accurate, up-to-date, and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the FJA data-collection process, the evaluator – often a qualified physical or occupational therapist - calculates the exact force and frequency of movements of each task. This quantitative analysis augments information gathered from the manager and worker interviews, worksite environmental reviews, and risk assessments. The therapist then consolidates all the findings to quantify and record the job’s essential physical and functional requirements, then documents them in the FJD.

Once the draft FJD is completed, managers and workers review it and validate that it factually depicts the job’s essential physical components and environmental factors. This review by subject matter experts certifies the FJD is correct and ensures pre-work screenings will test activities representing the job’s critical physical demands. The validation process can also serve as a legal defense for any litigation arising from hiring criteria and for Worker’s Compensation claims.

Without factual FJDs, organizations are ill-equipped to hire competent employees or design effective occupational health programs. Rather than “flying blind,” organizations should ensure their FJDs are accurate and promptly revalidated whenever changes occur. That way, managers can make better hiring decisions and provide employees with the necessary wellness benefits.


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