Despite the advances in automation over the years, not all industry tasks involve merely pushing buttons.
“It’s pretty interesting just how physical the jobs are that some people do,” said Diana Hendrickson, Director of The Corvallis Clinic’s Occupational Medicine Department. Anthony Mattos, manager of the maintenance, custodial and recycling departments at First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op in Corvallis, can attest to this. “In recycling, we have these super sacks,” Mattos said. “They weigh anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds, and they need to be pulled, lifted, and stacked. That’s a heavy job right there.”
And to make sure employees at First Alternative and at other companies in the mid-Willamette Valley can perform such jobs safely, The Occupational Medicine Department provides physical-capacity evaluations (PCEs). The evaluation is a way to objectively assess whether a person can effectively perform the required job tasks and is done both for post-offer employment and fitness-for-duty evaluations.
“(These evaluations) give us baseline information and help to ensure that an employee can safely perform the physical aspects of the job either as a new employee or as one who is returning to work,” said Dan Lashley, Human Resources Manager of Hollingsworth and Vose, a Corvallis glass micro-fiber and advanced technology battery manufacturer.
The company has been using The Clinic to perform PCEs on its employees since 2010. “Additionally, it helps screen for conditions that may place a worker at risk and gives a new employee a sense of the physical expectations of the job. We gain partnerships with medical professionals in support of a healthier work force.”
Basically, PCEs help take the guess work out of deciding where to place a worker by producing data from which an objective assessment is made. “The evaluations take the subjectivity out,” Hendrickson said.
The first PCE step for a company is when a team from The Corvallis Clinic’s Occupational Medicine Department visits the job site. This team generally consists of Hendrickson; Michael Gray, Physical Therapist; and Austin Haag, Physical Capacity Evaluation Specialist.
“We meet with managers,” Hendrickson said, “and we measure each one of an employee’s job tasks. We bring the information back and simulate those job tasks here in the clinical setting.”
“(The Clinic) can engineer the tests to make sure we are getting great applicants that are the best possible fit for the position,” Mattos said. “To me, that’s the biggest plus.”
The evaluation takes place at the Physical Capacity Evaluation Laboratory at The Occupational Medicine and Physical Therapy offices on Walnut Boulevard in Corvallis. The lab has numerous devices that simulate job tasks and measure the strength and endurance of an employee. A software program collects the data, which goes to the evaluating Occupational Medical physician, either Dr. William Ferguson or Dr. Christopher Swan, who determines the physical limitations of the employee. This analysis then goes to the employer who makes the final decision on where the employee will be placed.
The employees are tested on their strength, flexibility, overall conditioning and body mechanics, which usually include the ability to push, pull, lift, grip, carry and reach, depending on the job description.
For example, one of the most vital tests given is one that measures the relative strength of each shoulder. “We test them at both shoulder and waist height,” Haag said of the assessment that entails an employee pushing two handles. “It allows us to get various force measures, to see if one arm is doing most of the work or if they are doing equal work.”
Ideally, the force of both shoulders should be fairly equal, such as 83 pounds for the left and 87 for the right. However, if one shoulder is weaker than the other, it can cause issues later on. “Sure, they can push 110 pounds combined, but the left shoulder is barely doing much work,” Haag said. “It’s so easy for people to tolerateminor injuries, and they can get progressively worse until it’s a major injury.”
“Employers see so many shoulder injuries that turn out to be major injuries,” Hendrickson said. “So this really is an impressive, worthwhile test to employers.”
Haag also monitors the person’s physical responses to ensure their health and safety. “I am not going to have them perform after they have met a predetermined level of pain,” Haag said, “and at any time I am able to stop a test based on heart rate.”
Customized tests, those not integrated with the devices and software program, are also offered as part of a PCE. “If it’s something we can’t simulate on the equipment,” Hendrickson said, “we end up building it so we can simulate it.” Such tests include the ability to walk on an uneven and irregular surface, to crawl on hands and knees, to swing a hammer, to hold a drill, and to climb a ladder.”
In the uneven surface test, 2-inch x 4-inch boards are set up along various balancing equipment from the Physical Therapy Department. An employee walks through this entire system and back again as they are being gauged on their ability to balance. For another, an individual has to carry 40 pounds for 350 feet three times.
The tests can be numerous and hard, but in the name of worker safety, they are all worthwhile. “Companies know that this service is protecting their most important investment,” Hendrickson said, “their employees.”