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Evaluating the feasibility of restrictions – how an Ergonomist can help

Returning an injured worker to their job is often a complex process. Ideally there are two critical pieces on information. 1) A complete and up to date Job Demands Analysis (JDA) that has been verified by key people within the organization; 2) A Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) has been completed on the employee to determine their capabilities and subsequently what their Return to Work (RTW) restrictions are.

In a straightforward scenario a Return to Work Coordinator (RTWC) or Occupational Health Nurse (OHN) would compare the FCE with the JDA. There are three possible outcomes; 1) the employee can return to the position with no modifications; 2) the employee can return to this position with modifications; or, 3) it is not possible for the employee to return to this position (due to the mismatch between the demands and their capabilities).

An Ergonomist cannot evaluate an employee’s physical capabilities to develop a FCE; that is best determined in a clinical setting with the appropriate professional. However, an Ergonomist has an expertise in analysis and documentation of the demands of a job via a JDA. For the return to work process, it is also common for an Ergonomist to assist when an employee’s work tasks need to be modified to meet restrictions. The assistance may entail changing the work process, changing the layout to avoid restricted postures, or sourcing lifting aides to meet lifting restrictions.

A professional Ergonomist can also assist in determining the feasibility of restrictions relative to a job. In many cases, though, the JDA on its own may not provide enough information to evaluate restrictions and additional information and analysis are required. To gather this information and interpret it in light of available FCE and JDA information, an ergonomist can play a key role.

I was recently involved with a return to work case where there were several noted restrictions, with two specific items that created some difficulty at the workplace. One of these restrictions was that the employee needed to be able to keep their door closed, while the second was that the blinds had to be closed (both to address a documented medical condition). The employer was comfortable with all of the other noted restrictions, but expressed concern with these two.

While there was an older JDA document for this position available, it was identified to the RTWC that, even with updates to the document, it would not be possible to determine if the two key restrictions were feasible for the position. To evaluate the feasibility of the restrictions, the Ergonomist completed the following tasks:
1) review of job description,
2) interview with the employee to gather information
3) interview with an employee currently filling the role
4) observation of the position.

By collecting and cross-referencing the aforementioned material it was possible to advise the RTWC on the feasibility of these restrictions relative to the demands of the job.

When there are gaps between the information you have in JDAs, and what you need, a professional Ergonomist can help bridge that gap.

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