The importance of job descriptions is uncontestable. They are important. Very important. They help agencies hire and fire, give employees a sense of direction, and let prospective hires know what they are in store for. They also have a dark side. Let’s shine a light on this dirty little secret.
Last week I was in the wilderness on a job site with some big burly dudes. We were looking at a giant transformer that requires a bottle of nitrogen to be exchanged periodically. The transformer is located inside a secondary containment box. This poses challenges because the nitrogen bottles need to be lifted over the 28 inches into the box. Challenge! Yes, a challenge.
It doesn’t seem like a difficult challenge. Just pick up the bottle and set it in there. That was my thought. When the tougher of the two gentlemen said, “just pick it up and set it in there,” that is when I heard the crack of lightning. In a sharp voice, the man said we have a 50 lb lifting limit, so I need to get three more guys down here, which is precisely when I fell over and died.
Here we go again. The 50 lb lifting limit is the full stop on work. Work that needs to be done. With that statement, the man proceeds to talk about spending $60,000 to install overhead cranes. Not a bad idea until you consider the most critical factor of all. This bottle only needs to be lifted one time every two years. Repeat. Once every two years.
Now you are probably thinking, but there is a 50lb limit, and the bottle of nitrogen weighs 200lbs. That is true. It does. But two things can be true at once. Even three things! The third thing that is true was not considered.
The biggest mistake that risk managers make is developing the functional capacities of job descriptions. The job is not constant and neither should the functional capacity. There needs to be tiers and language around the description. When functional job descriptions are created they need to take into consideration all the duties and functions of the job. You are not making a casserole here. You are making an 8-course dinner.
Taking all of the tasks and reducing it into a simple 50lb limit misses all the other duties, like once a year tasks. It also gives doctors an out when looking at return-to-work restrictions. What needs to be done is stratification. Your employees are not lifting 50lbs repeatedly every minute of the hour. So reflect it.
The lifting requirements should be on a per-hour basis with a number of repetitions in there. So it would look like this:
- Lift 10lbs 50 times per hour
- Lift 50lbs 4 times per hour
- Lift 100lbs 1 time per year
- Walk 200 yards in 10 minutes
- Run 400 yards in 4 minutes
- Bend to ground 50 times per shift
If you do this, then you are classifying the job correctly. When you create your job descriptions, this should be done with a knowledgeable risk manager or a physical therapist that understands body mechanics and job descriptions. This will give you the flexibility to get the job done all while reducing costs, increasing labor hours and the like.
It will also give your agency the ability to handle ADA issues, workers’ compensation claims, return-to-work and the like.