Preventing operational risk with Physical Abilities Testing

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 30, 2016 11:23:52 AM / by Deborah Lechner

The implementation of a pre-hire Physical Abilities Test (PAT) offers an employer many benefits, but when it comes to mitigating operational and productivity risk, a PAT is especially beneficial. We have previously explained how to mitigate compliance risk when implementing PAT. While avoiding all forms of risk is preferred, preventing operational risk is an immediate benefit of a proper PAT.

Consider this situation: you have been experiencing ongoing sleep issues and consequently have been exhausted each day. How does this impact your productivity? Can you still think as clearly as usual? On little sleep, can you still problem solve in the workplace? Probably not. Perhaps you also experience physical fatigue and can’t quite carry your workload – literally.  And this does not just affect your work day, it impacts the work day of those around you who may depend on you for decisions, support and pulling your share of the load.

Just as a lack of sleep can impact your entire work day and everybody around you, so too can an injury. If someone is off the job due to an injury then productivity is always negatively impacted. This is because either the employer is having to ensure other employees can work overtime to make up for the lost work or they are having to hire temporary associates to replace that person until they can return. If the injured employee is not completely out, but instead on restricted duty, then again productivity is affected because the employer has to have another employee take over the responsibilities of the injured employee, at least in part.

Additionally, when an employee is working with persistent pain, such as in the knees or back, then they generally are not as productive. One study finds if an employee is working with musculoskeletal pain then they are nearly 10 percent less productive. If having injuries negatively impacts productivity, then it is the basic premise that having employees working with discomfort also reduces productivity.


By hiring people that are physically capable of doing the job, employers will experience:

  • Fewer injuries
  • Less absenteeism
  • Less impact on productivity

Productivity is a huge deal for operations because there is a nationwide labor shortage. Some companies are probably working with fewer people than truly needed, and in some cases are dealing with even fewer people because of those employees who are out with injuries. In turn, those making up for the shortage of other employees can increase their risk of injury – and in turn further affect productivity.

When you hire employees who are not physically capable of the job, even if they do not get injured, they will most likely burn out quickly because they do not have the endurance or strength to carry out the job over time. Some employers hire new employees only to see them wash out during training. Some warehouse employers find themselves hiring delivery drivers who abandon their delivery trucks after realizing the difficulty of the materials handling required for the delivery routes.   

One of the best approaches to preventing operational risks related to productivity is pre-hire PAT and periodic fitness for duty testing (making sure they continue to be fit). These strategies are a big part of maintaining operational efficiency that results from the injury prevention achieved. For those employees who do not pass the periodic fitness for duty – employers can offer incentives and opportunities to mitigate their deficit or improve anything holding them back – whether it be a gym membership, monetary incentive, or opportunity to come back, pass the test again and continue working in the job. Inevitably, these employees will struggle less on the job than those who are less fit and stay in the position for the longer haul.

When are Physical abilities test best performed


Topics: Risk Management, Physical Abilities Tests

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.