Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Pre-Employment Testing: Making It Work for You

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Pre-Employment Testing: Making It Work for You

Article excerpt

Expert advice on how to make pre-employment medical testing a blessing, rather than a curse, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Increasingly, employees are holding their employers liable for injuries sustained while on the job. This responsibility extends far beyond workers' compensation and can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars in complicated lawsuits and insurance claims, in addition to man-hours lost to administrative legal tasks. Considering that a court case may drag on for months or years, that can add up to a considerable sum - one with which most companies are loathe to part, particularly if the suit is preventable.

It is not surprising that companies are looking at pre-employment testing as a means of keeping accidents and injuries at bay. Theoretically, an employee who is physically matched to the job is less likely to sustain an injury. Thus, if an employer could determine who is physically best-suited to a position, he could reduce the likelihood of on-the-job injuries.

While always hiring a physically fit person can decrease injuries, relying on that criteria alone would spell certain unemployment for more than a few Americans.

Realizing this, Congress passed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), legislation designed to protect workers from discrimination because of a disability. Employers feared they would be prevented from testing potential hires on their ability to perform a job.

Although ADA does not prohibit pre-employment testing, it does determine what tests are allowable and at what point during the hiring process they may be administered. Further, ADA explicitly states that all exams must be directly relevant to the requirements of the job and that a medical exam cannot be given until an offer of employment has been extended.

At issue for the safety field are whether the tests are task-appropriate and how accurate they are in predicting predisposition to physical injury.

Testing Methods

Pre-employment tests run the gamut from complete physicals to narrowly tailored exams that test for strength, cardiovascular endurance, drugs or alcohol. Which test is used depends on what the employer wants to discover.

There are a panoply of testing methods from which to choose, providing that the test is administered by a professional experienced in dealing with regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for implementing ADA.

Charles Anderson, Ph.D., CPE, president of Advanced Ergonomics Inc., Dallas, says that, while companies can identify key job elements that mandate testing, they should call a professional when it comes to the actual administration of the test.

"We look at the physical requirements of the job, then design a battery to meet them - that might mean one test or a series depending on the demands of the job," said Anderson, whose company designs customized and personalized tests. Batteries, he said, can cost from $70 to $250 per person and typically take 30 minutes or less.

"In warehouse work, employees will encounter significant endurance and strength requirements and conceivably, agility," he continues. Many of the tests Anderson's firm administers are true to life. For example, "We'll have prospective hirees lift a box reflective of the size they will have to lift on the job. Then we'll add weight until they feel they can no longer safely handle it," explains Anderson.

Isometric machines that require a person to slowly increase the force exerted on a set of static handlebars are also common. Other strength tests include measuring a person's lifting capabilities from floor to knuckle height, from knuckle to shoulder, and overhead; measuring grip strength; and measuring trunk extension/flexion. Anderson adds that strength tests, while helpful, do not begin to touch upon candidates' cardiovascular abilities.

Where repetitive motion is required, cardiovascular capabilities should be tested, says Anderson. …

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