Do you use a candidate Physical Ability Test (PAT) in your workplace? If so, you know the potential of PAT in terms of increased workplace safety and decreased costs. However, if your only use of PAT is in the hiring process, you are not taking advantage of that test’s full potential. Physical Ability Testing can also be an invaluable tool for more effective return-to-work planning, helping you provide your employees with a smoother, safer, and more efficient path back to full productivity.
So how, exactly, can a PAT be considered a gift to a returning employee? Simple: By adding an often missing level of objectivity to the return-to-work planning, you will facilitate a safer, faster, and more successful return. All too often, return-to-work decisions are made by physicians who lack inside knowledge of the workplace and the full extent of an injured employee’s job responsibilities. This means that these decisions are made without a true understanding of how a recovering employee's injury will affect his or her ability to perform the essential functions of the job – either regular or transitional duties .
Understanding these factors is important to ensuring that a return to work attempt is successful. Underestimating the physical demands of the work a returning employee will be doing can increase his or her chances of re-injury, impede recovery, and cause frustration and discouragement as that employee struggles to meet demands that are ill-suited to their current physical condition. In short, it can set returning employees up for failure, no matter how determined and dedicated they are to their jobs. In fact, a report published by the Institute for Work & Health identifies several factors related to a poor understanding of the extent of injury and the physical demands of the job. In many cases this lack of understanding becomes a significant barrier to a successful return to work. Some red flags that arew indicative of a poor return to work outcome include returning with unclear injury, immediate or premature return to work, inability to perform job tasks, and inappropriate transitional duty assignments.
Like a candidate Physical Ability Test, post-injury return-to-work testing is based on a thorough, on-site job analysis, which provides a detailed evaluation of the precise tasks that will be expected of your returning worker and the physical demands they will face in performing those tasks. Based on that first-hand, detailed evaluation, a return-to-work Physical Ability Test will be designed to determine that employee's ability to meet those demands safely and efficiently. This gives you, the employer, an accurate and objective assessment of whether or not your employee is ready to return, and if so, whether full duty or transitional duty is the best option for a safe and successful transition back to the workplace. If transitional duty is the better option, the assessment of that employee's current physical abilities provided by PAT can facilitate appropriate and effective transitional duty planning.
But as effective as candidate Physical Ability Test programs can be in reducing injuries in your workplace, they cannot entirely eliminate them. It's also inevitable you will have employees who were hired prior to screening and as a result are not suited to their jobs, potentially placing them at increased risk of injury. By having an effective return-to-work process in place when those injuries occur, you can be assured your valued employees get the support they need to return to full productivity quickly and efficiently, and most importantly, safely. A worthwhile gift, indeed.