Prework Screens for Trucking Employees Save Millions in Lost Work Time
The two-year study was conducted by Atlas Ergonomics, a consulting firm and technology provider based in Grand Haven, Mich. From 2007 to 2009, researchers screened approximately 20,000 driver candidates for a long-haul truckload carrier. The study, part of Atlas' ongoing research into transportation industry ergonomics, reviewed and quantified the effects of a prework screen program in addressing drivers' risks of musculoskeletal disorders.
MSDs are especially costly for the commercial transportation industry. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Washington State Department of Labor and Industries spotlight the industry's high rates of overexertion injuries. Combined with a high level of employee turnover, these injuries cost trucking companies millions of dollars annually in direct and indirect injury expenses.
The findings indicated that the systematic physical screenings of truck drivers prior to hiring led to a 7 percent reduction in lost workdays, saving the truckload carrier $28 million in just two years -- a return of $25 for every dollar spent on the program. Atlas officials said the study illustrates how a prework screen initiative can be a strong component of a comprehensive ergonomics program.
Address root cause of problem. Researchers said that when developing a solid health, safety and ergonomics program, the goal is to implement elements that address the root cause of the problem. In the case of the transportation industry, the study noted that the high turnover rate is one of the first issues that must be addressed.
"By including a program element that focuses on MSDs at the point of hire, a company can address the issue of injuries during the early days (three-12 months) of employment," the authors wrote. "Although the use of a prework screen does not guarantee that a particular worker will never get injured on the job, it does assure that at the time of employment the applicant has the ability to complete the essential physical functions of the job."
The development of the prework screen protocol for the study was initiated in 2006 with the formation of a task force to investigate potential screening protocols and the development of a viable action plan. A formal job analysis was performed that included a review of the current job descriptions, meetings with employees to identify major job functions and daily operational tasks for each job function, and a determination of the physical demands of the work. In addition, researchers reviewed two sets of injury and illness data for two-year time frames -- before and after prework screen implementation.
In early 2007, two mini-pilot programs were conducted with employees to determine the impact of prework screen implementation on the current fleet. The pilots were deemed necessary to fully understand the implications of implementation and the resultant failure rate of the fleet. The prework screen protocol required employees to perform a variety of common tasks, including lifting, pulling, carrying and crouching. The individual's heart rate was monitored. If the person's heart rate met or exceeded 90 percent of his age-predicted maximum, it was considered a failed test.
When the program was rolled out companywide, more than 1,000 applicants (5.4 percent) failed the screening process. The study noted that tests focusing on high force and cardiovascular challenging activities produced the most common points of failure. Researchers said these failure points illustrated that the screens were targeting employees who were incapable of performing the heavy tasks required within the jobs.
In the time frame post-implementation of the prework screen process, the carrier experienced 367 fewer injuries. David Brodie, director of ergonomics services at Atlas and one of the authors of the report, said the study demonstrated that by appropriately assessing drivers' physical risks before hiring, a prework screen program based on current ergonomic science can match workers' physical abilities with the physical demands of the job, demonstrably reducing injuries and resulting costs.
ADA limits inquiries.
Employers should note that the Americans with Disabilities Act restricts their ability to ask candidates about medical conditions or require them to undergo medical exams. Specifically, prior to an offer of employment, the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations even if they are related to the job. After an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before he starts work, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category. After employment begins, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
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February 22, 2010
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