Four Key Questions to launch pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing in Food Processing

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 4, 2021 12:56:07 PM / by Deborah Lechner

This is the fifth part of a 5-part series on why injuries occur in the food processing and how they can be prevented.

Before reading on you might like to read the introduction here.

close up of poultry processing in food industry

If your company is considering Physical Abilities Testing as part of your post-offer/pre-employment screening process, you are probably asking yourself:

  1. Is it legally defensible?
  2. Will my organization realize a return on investment?
  3. How will it affect our hiring?
  4. What are the steps for getting testing started?

Legal Compliance. There are a few things you need to know about compliance issues. First, physical ability tests should only be administered after a conditional offer of employment is made. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines, an employer may only request examinations that are medical in nature after a conditional offer of employment has been extended to an employee.  The sequence of the test is important, because most thorough, effective physical abilities tests do have aspects that are considered to be medical testing under federal employment regulations.

Additionally, physical abilities testing must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Making the decision hiring decision based on medical information or diagnosis (like a previous injury) is not allowed under the ADA. To be in compliance, testing also cannot be comprised of general strength, agility or endurance testing. Using sit-ups, push-ups, step-tests, isokinetic strength testing machines or cycle ergometer tests are not ADA compliant. Rather, testing must directly correlate with the essential physical tasks required to perform the job for which a candidate has applied. In order to determine the essential physical requirements of the job, a thorough job analysis should be performed. If you test at multiple sites, the job analysis should be done at 2-3 of your locations.

Testing must also be consistently applied. In other words, employers who employ post offer Physical Abilities Testing for a specific job cannot pick and choose which candidates to test; they must test all candidates to whom they have made a conditional offer of employment.

These regulations are meant to ensure that applicants with disabilities and applicants who belong to a protected class of individuals, for example, are not screened out without an opportunity to prove themselves capable of meeting the requirements of the job in question. Should properly conducted EEOC and ADA compliant physical abilities testing show that a prospective employee is unable to meet the physical demands of the job, the conditional offer of employment can be rescinded.

Return on Investment. In previous blogs in this series, I’ve discussed many of the topics related to return on investment. In short there are 5 easy steps for calculating a potential return on investment.

  1. Determine the annual costs of strains and sprains and slips, trips and falls for the past 1- 3 years. (direct costs)
  2. Multiply the direct costs by 1.2 to determine the indirect costs of injury.
  3. Add direct and indirect costs to determine the total costs.  
  4. Work with a credible provider of pre-hire Physical Abilities Tests to determine the costs for doing job analysis and test development and a per-test cost. (investment)
  5. Determine the estimated number of new-hires per year and multiply by per-test costs.
  6. This vendor should also be able to give you an estimate of the expected savings in work comp costs that they typically achieve with their testing. (savings realized by testing)
  7. Determine your anticipated net annual savings (savings minus the cost of the testing program)
  8. Dividing the net savings by the cost of the investment in the program and, multiply it by 100.

Effect on hiring. How Pre-Hire Physical Abilities Testing affects your hiring depends to some extent on your applicant pool and the physical difficulty of your jobs. The providers that you are partnering with to administer your Physical Abilities Testing program should be able to tell you their average fail rate in the beverage distribution industry. If they can’t, these “providers” may not have the necessary experience or expertise to do the work.

Fail rates vary widely according to the test you’re using. And in a tight labor market any fail rate can seem like a lot – especially to your talent acquisition team. But if no one fails, then why are you doing testing? At ErgoScience we find that the injury costs decrease approximately 14% for every 1% fail rate. So, you can see test failures are not a bad thing.

The PAT provider should also be able to give you an average turn-around time from the moment you request the data to the time you receive a report. And they should be able to provide reports to support their claims.

You’ll also want to know how they protect your organization from being accused of making your hiring decision on medical information instead of functional performance related to the job. And you’ll want to make sure they are archiving test results in a secure HIPAA compliant database.

Steps for implementation. Development of legally defensible pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing depends on performing a detailed job analysis that focuses on the essential physical requirements of the job for which you want to test. Test items and pass/fail points are selected that represent the most difficult aspects of the job. Once the test is developed a nearby clinic is trained in test administration and the testing begins. After implementation it’s important to track pass/fail statistics and turn-around times to monitor the outcomes and quality of your testing program. After 12 months of testing, it will be time to collaborate with your provider to look at the injury statistics before and after initiating testing to make sure the program is effective in reducing injuries.

The Bottom Line? Food processing organizations can use post-offer/pre-employment Physical Abilities Testing to significantly decrease workplace injuries. They just need to:

  •  Be sure that their testing programs are in line with federal regulations.
  • Calculate a projected positive return on investment
  • Understand and be willing to accept the potential fail rate
  • Know the steps for creating a defensible testing program.

This process is most easily done by choosing a reputable, experienced pre-employment testing provider who offers programs customized to the specific needs, demands and conditions present in each food processing organization. For questions regarding job analysis and test development and implementation, contact:

Deborah Lechner: deborahlechner@ergoscience.com.

Other blogs in this series:

Blog 1. Why so many injuries occur in food processing & production

Blog 2. Calculating the true cost of injuries in Food Processing

Blog 3. Why traditional approaches to injury prevention in food processing don't always work. 

Blog 4. Is PAT right for your beverage food processing organization?

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.

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