What is PAT? (Pre Employment Physical Abilities Testing)

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 1, 2022 2:09:46 PM / by Justin Shepherd

 Hint… It’s not that weirdo from procurement who steals your Cheetos and then wipes their hands on your chair

You’ve probably heard or read the term PAT in relation to hiring, especially for physically demanding jobs. But, what does the term PAT stand for, and what does it really mean? This blog will help you better understand what PAT is and hopefully inform you how a well-designed pre-hire, post-offer PAT can help you identify candidates who are less likely to end up on your OSHA recordables log and help keep production at your facility running at full steam.

What is PAT?

PAT stands for Physical Abilities Testing and is simply a series of physical activities designed to simulate those tasks that are requisite for successfully performing all aspects of a specific job. It may help to explain what a PAT is NOT. It is not a medical exam, a DOT physical, or a physician physical. Those ensure one’s body systems are functioning adequately but don’t test physical abilities. Most times, the physician has no knowledge of the job to be performed, and they don’t need to be informed. They’re simply evaluating the general health of the candidate.

In a pre-hire physical ability test, the candidate will be asked to perform similar tasks to what they would do if they were in the warehouse, on the production floor, or driving a tractor-trailer for your company. Do your employees have to lift a 50-pound product from a pallet on the ground to a shoulder-level shelf? They’ll do precisely that during the PAT. Do they squat several times while performing a pre-trip inspection on their vehicle? They’ll do that during their PAT. Lift a 100-pound tarp onto a flatbed trailer? Climb ladders? Reach overhead repeatedly? Carry heavy boxes? Push, pull… You get the picture. A specific job's most physically demanding aspects will be performed during the PAT to ensure the candidate can do those particular tasks if hired. This type of testing helps ensure that the workers you hire are well-matched in terms of physical capabilities to the everyday demands of the jobs into which they will be placed.

A few things about PAT:

  1. You DON’T have to test for every unique job at your facility. Looking at your loss run data will help you identify jobs where most of your injuries occur, so you can begin testing there. It would be a waste of money to design a physical abilities test for a job where no one gets injured.
  2. You DO have to apply the PAT to everyone who applies to the job or jobs for which you are testing. The EEOC is all about consistency (hey, that rhymed), and you will avoid litigation if your testing is applied to each individual considered for that position.

Designing a PAT Program

But, how does an evaluator know what specific tasks the candidate should be asked to perform? That’s a great question! It’s also essential to designing a good, legally-defensible PAT program.

An integral part of your PAT program is what occurs before your candidate shows up! In fact, skipping this crucial step would put your company at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) regulations.

A detailed job demands analysis, or JDA, must be performed as part of your PAT program. This should entail a professional job analyst or ergonomist coming to the job site to observe the work being performed and speaking to your subject matter experts: the employees successfully performing that job, supervisors, and managers. But more than observation is required to ensure ergonomics in the workplace meet regulations like those under the ADA, EEOC, and OFCCP. Professionals who perform job analyses must also spend time measuring the actual forces needed to perform different jobs. The job demands analysis identifies the most physically demanding aspects of a job, creating the foundation for a test that can accurately assess candidates. It also helps to ensure that your testing correlates with the specific demands of the job, as required for EEOC compliance.


So, how does this all work? Let’s give a brief example.

After several injuries at the loading dock position in a warehouse, Safety Sal decided that he was tired of sending employees home in worse condition than when they arrived. He was also tired of getting badgered by Operations Al because production is getting killed from thinner crews and bringing in folks from other areas of the facility that don’t know the job well (one of whom ended up as one of the injuries). The quarterly meeting was the next day, and Sal knew Finance Fred would grill him on why they had multiple six-figure work comp cases outstanding and why he hadn’t solved this problem yet. Something had to give.

He had mentioned pre-hire testing in one of the meetings, but HR immediately dug in their heels because it would slow down the hiring process, and legal was concerned about getting sued.

Sal was prepared. After doing his research, Sal found a group that he felt would appease everyone: a research-backed job analysis process and legally-defensible testing, a promise of two days from requesting a PAT until the results of the test were back to the company, and nationwide coverage (so when this worked, it would go out to the other facilities across the country and Sal’s the hero!).

The team grudgingly agreed, and Sal set it up.

The job analyst was able to get onsite quicker than Sal expected, and after interviewing a few of the old guard on the loading dock, he spent a few hours observing the work. He recorded some video clips of the heavy stuff, measured weights, heights, and forces, took a bunch of notes, and left Sal with a promise to complete a comprehensive job demands analysis (JDA) within several days. Way less painful than Sal had anticipated! The guy didn’t disrupt the workflow for more than a few minutes!

True to his word, the analyst provided a detailed JDA the next week, pointing out all the most physically demanding aspects of the Dock Loader position, as well as how much time was spent performing each of them during the day. Sal reviewed it with a couple of the supervisors, and they agreed that it captured pretty much everything involved with that job.

In a video call a few days later, the company presented a PAT for that position that simulated the most demanding tasks required of a dock worker: 50-pound floor to waist lift, 38-pound waist to eye-level lift, 70-pound push/pull, ladder climb, and single leg balance. Wait… Balance! He didn’t have any ballerinas on the floor! Sal asked why standing on one leg was necessary for a dock loader, but the explanation made sense. People with poor balance were more likely to slip and fall, and Sal knew from the loss runs that they’d paid big for several of those in the last couple of years.

He shared that document with the team and got agreement to proceed with testing. The company trained his recruiters to request a test through their online portal, and a nearby clinic was trained to administer the PAT. Everything was done through the portal, so it was effortless.

Sal could tell he’d made the right decision within a couple of months. His new hires no longer looked like they’d escaped from the set of “The Walking Dead.” HR not only admitted that it wasn’t taking longer to hire, but they added that the decreased turnover was making their lives a lot easier. Production was up because there was less lost time, and Sal spent his time improving safety training rather than chasing down accident reports.

Fast forward two years, sprains and strains on the dock were down 70%, and slips, trips, and falls were down 73%! Sal had been promoted to Regional Safety Director and now was over six facilities where he had implemented the Sale program. With the money the company had saved in injury costs, they were able to hire additional staff as well as implement a bonus program for identifying potential safety hazards.

Not A Fairy Tale

Unlike those diet commercials that ALWAYS have the fine print that indicates the results shown are not typical, the injury numbers and cost savings above are not only from actual testing partners, but represent the average of what our clients achieve. If you feel like Sal did and want to find out how ErgoScience can help, contact us for a quick discussion.

legal considerations in Physical Abilities Testing

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Topics: Pre Employment Screening, pre-hire testing, Industrial Athlete

Justin Shepherd

Written by Justin Shepherd