January 2016 Newsletter:

MONEY WELL SPENT – Investing in your Physical Demands Assessments (PDAs)

“Shortly after PROergonomics completed PDAs for our facility, we had two claims to dispute and were able to use the PDAs to effectively address our concerns with the Claims Manager. The WSIB indicated that the PDAs were a key element to having both claims denied as they objectively documented the demands of the jobs in question without bias. The cost of completing the documents was quickly repaid with these two cases. Money well spent."

Judy Nickerson, Health & Safety Coordinator @ Almag Aluminum

It is a well-known fact that Physical Demands Assessments (PDAs) are a staple component to a corporate safety program. The WSIB has been requesting, advocating and promoting the importance of these documents for years, yet many companies still struggle to appreciate the benefit of a “good" PDA. With close to 2.3 million Canadians annually reporting MSD symptoms resulting in activity limitations (Statistics Canada Health Reports, 2003), this is an important document to get right!

What is a “Good" Physical Demands Assessment?

In order to rate a PDA “good", it absolutely needs to be objective. Numbers are objective; weights, measurements, frequencies, forces and degrees of range of motion should all be information easily read and found in a PDA. Unfortunately, some Physical Demands Assessments are either checkbox driven with minimal descriptive data and measurements or lengthy “manuals" consisting of pages upon pages of written text. In both cases, the objective nature of the document may be lost since assumptions and perspective by the reader are introduced. When disputing a claim, all too often emotions and personal beliefs in the demands of the job can interfere; having objective, measured, and calculated content documented in the PDA helps to increase the validity and reliability.

In 2013, PROergonomics was contacted by a company requesting plant wide PDAs. Feedback from the WSIB had indicated that many of their existing PDAs heavily overestimated the physical demands of the jobs (more than 100 had been completed by another service provider); thus, making it challenging to dispute any injury claims.

This goes to show that ensuring the content in a PDA is valid and current is critical if the PDA is going to help lower costs related to claims and injuries – typically the goal why they were completed in the first place.

What might be your Return on Investment?

Consider this hypothetical example: A company spends $10,000 to conduct PDAs on jobs that have been generating several injury claims, each of which costs the company upwards of $20,000. Rather than continually paying $20,000 each time an employee is injured, spending the $10,000 once on PDAs and developing appropriate solutions from this is an obvious cost savings to the organization. Despite this logic, it is quite often that employers fail to see the return on investment that comes with conducting PDAs or other such ergonomic assessments. Additionally, multiple other advantages exist from taking such initiative, including:

  • Lower incidences of injury
  • Fewer WSIB claims and subsequently, lower costs
  • Less absenteeism and fewer lost workdays due to injury
  • Increased productivity due to suitable work set-up (especially so with proactive PDAs)

Supporting this, it has been reported that for every $1 spent on safety initiatives, such as ergonomic assessments, a gain of approximately $3 is achieved due to decreased injury expenses ( Alberta Employment, Immigration & Industry).

What are the pertinent aspects of a PDA?

To conduct a thorough PDA, it is imperative to ensure you always collect adequate information pertaining to the job, including:

  • Job Overview: Essential duties of the position and the frequency/duration performed
  • Strength Demands: Lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling and the frequency performed with measurement of required force/exertion efforts
  • Mobility Demands: Walking, standing, and sitting (amongst others), and the frequency/duration performed
  • Postural Demands: Back, neck, shoulder, wrist, and lower limb postures, and the frequency/duration performed

Documenting the physical demands can be challenging and time consuming; understanding what to look for can save you time and money. Ensure that when completing a PDA that time and resources are available to ensure that the data can be collected accurately and verified through objective means. This is a critical step often over looked when the need arises to quickly produce the document to WSIB. If you are considering whether to incorporate PDAs into your company's safety/ergonomics program, or looking to update your existing documents, consider having a qualified professional (i.e. someone trained and experienced with conducting objective job assessments), such as an Ergonomist, conduct the assessments.

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