When you are putting together a Return to Work program, one useful item is a set of functional job descriptions. These differ from the job descriptions you might already have by focusing solely of the physical requirements of a job rather than on the tasks; instead of “store packages on shelves”, you might have “lift up to 40 pounds up to shoulder height repeatedly for 3-4 hours a day”. When an injured employee goes to their medical provider, they should take the functional job description for their job, other jobs that might provide lighter-duty work, and transitional jobs as part of the Grab N Go kit.
A functional job description focuses on the frequency, intensity, duration, and speed of a task, as well as any environmental factors that may affect an employee’s ability to do the job, such as light, noise, temperature, or rough surfaces. It includes things like:
- sitting, standing, walking
- carrying things: weight, how often, how far
- lifting: weight, how high, how often
- pinch grips: force required, how often
- use of scissors or other repetitive equipment
- push or pull: how much, how often
- climbing stairs or ladders
The point of a functional job description is to give a medical provider a concrete way to decide whether or not an employee is ready to come back to work, and to give them options for lighter-duty jobs that might work in the interim. An employee who can’t sit for long stretches probably wouldn’t be able to go back to sewing all day, but might be able to do data entry at a stand-up desk or customer service at a counter. It reduces the tendency to check “Not released to work” because an employee isn’t 100% healed, and it gives you the information you need to get that employee back to work as soon as safely possible.
A functional job description can be given to job candidates after you have made an offer; ask the candidate if they can perform the actions safely, with or without accommodation. If they can’t, it is better for everyone to figure it out before they start.
You can also use them as a way to identify and reduce physical hazards for your employees. Ergonomic issues are common and often have easy fixes, such as getting the proper size chair or a standing desk. Environmental improvements might include adding more or brighter lights, adding dust filters, or increasing sound-proofing. Sometimes rules or procedures can be changed to improve worker safety. And watch for the easiest fixes, like getting people the proper size gloves so they don’t get caught in machinery or create grip problems.
Review the descriptions at least annually and make sure they are still accurate. You may not need them often – if you are lucky – but they can help you get your employees back to work quickly after an injury, for your benefit and theirs.