Sifting for physically fit applicantsNews added by Benefits Pro on June 4, 2014

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By Alan Goforth

Before investing millions of dollars, National Football League teams conduct multiple tests to determine whether promising young players can perform up to expectations. Everyday employers nowadays also are increasingly relying on sophisticated physical assessment tools that can improve hiring practices.

“Companies have had drug, alcohol and other types of screenings but never a physical aptitude screening,” said Jim Lewis, director of business development for Key Functional Assessments in Carlsbad, Calif. “In the past, employers have determined the health of new hires but not their capacity for doing the job. There are major hard and soft costs if you hire someone who can’t do the job or if they get disillusioned and leave.”

Job-specific functional testing matches employees to job demands, which can reduce injuries (and accompanying workers’ compensation claims) and increase productivity. Human resources professionals are well aware of the costs associated with job-related injuries, but some of the statistics are worth reviewing.
  • More than 60 percent of adults are overweight and not considered physically fit, according to the Surgeon General of the United States.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that one-half of all workers’ compensation costs are attributable to back and neck injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis and other disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
These numbers point not only to injuries waiting to happen but suggest employers may want to do more to address the issue.

Also see: Obese employees cost employers thousands more

“The majority of companies in the United States are not being proactive enough to spot the risk of injury before it happen,” Dennis Dowling, president of Future Industrial Technologies in Santa Barbara, Calif., said, adding:

“Most companies are still extremely reactive and don’t go into action until they have a claim. It’s an irrational aspect of Corporate American that they are so busy functioning that they are not spending some time and money to proactively prevent problems.”

Richard Bunch, CEO of I.S.R. Institute Inc. in New Orleans, agrees.
“The widespread occurrences of musculoskeletal disorders in the United States is costing industries billions of dollars annually in lost time and direct and indirect costs,” he said. “Numerous medical studies have implicated poor work design, unsafe work behaviors and poor physical fitness as contributing to the vast development of these conditions.”

Assessment process

The best time to detect potential problems, of course, is before an applicant is hired. Key, which now works in more than 40 states, relies on trained therapists to conduct its assessments.

“Screenings take about 40 minutes,” Lewis said. “We administer the test in the field and run through a series of pushing, pulling and lifting exercises. We use a number of metrics, including posture, how they lift something and biomechanics. If the job requires lifting 100 pounds and they are huffing and puffing at 50 pounds, there may be a problem.

“We give each person a red, yellow or green grade. If it’s yellow, you may be able to put them through a program of strength-training or weight-loss.”

Key tests a wide range of items.

“Measuring an employee’s physical ability is not based strictly on strength, as most would assume,” said Glenda Key, owner and president of Key Functional Assessments. “The metrics for measuring physical ability in a physically demanding job involves evaluating resultant heart rates and postures as well as other factors while performing basic physical tasks.”

Also see: Top 5 fittest states

Testing removes subjectivity from the hiring process, which can head off potential legal challenges. “Everyone – young or old, male or female – receives the same objective test,” Lewis said. “We have been tested by fire and meet all federal requirements.”

The most significant benefit of a well-run physical assessment program may be reduced workers’ compensation claims and expenses.

“In 2008, when the economy crashed, our business took off,” Dowling said. “Why is that? For many companies, work comp is the second-highest expense after payroll. When the economy is doing well, that’s just the cost of doing business. But in a bad economy, you look at where you can cut, and work comp is a potential windfall.”

The same approach holds true as the economy rebounds. “If work comp is your second-highest expense,” he said, “hire not just for qualifications and how an applicant can help you, but also consider the chances of this person getting injured.”

A physical assessment baseline also comes in handy if a claim is filed. “Physical assessments measure pre-existing impairments that can be used for second-injury fund coverage and/or avoidance of claims after an injury for an impairment that was pre-existing,” Bunch said.

Physical assessments should be done only as a final step in the hiring process, Lewis said, not to screen masses of applicants before interviewing. They also can show where to help current employees improve performance and prevent injuries, and to determine when to allow employees to resume working following an injury.

As Key sums up the process, “It's a lie detector test for the body.”

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