POET Q&A from Injury Prevention Webinar

Risk and Insurance All Star Winner, Kevin Farthing, ASP, ASHM, shares his secrets to success in designing and implementing a data-driven injury prevention program, along with expert clinical insight from Kari Herndon, COTA/L, CEAS II.

Did you catch our webinar with LRP,  “Getting the Injury Prevention Solution You Need – How to Find the Best Fit and Get the ‘Yes!’ From Your Boss” ? We heard loud and clear how important this topic is to injury prevention professionals. From finding the right injury and claims cost reduction strategy, to gaining critical support inside your company to get your program rolling.

Audience engagement was so high that we were unable to address every question during the brief allotted Q&A time. So, we created an extended Q&A opportunity, inviting ergonomics, workers comp, and environmental health and safety professionals to submit their biggest questions about designing and implementing injury prevention solutions at their companies.

We worked with our presenters and industry experts to answer each one. See their responses below:

When a candidate fails the POET

  • What occurs when an employee has failed the POET? How is it handled when and employee does not meet the requirements – they may fail the POET, but is that grounds to not fulfill the job offer without hovering the line of discrimination?
    POET testing is administered after a conditional offer of employment, so if the candidate does not pass the test the offer is rescinded. Because the test is validated and based on the Essential Job Functions, and accommodations are provided when applicable, and there is no basis for discrimination.
  • What happens when someone fails the POET? Who determines if a reasonable accommodation is available?
    This depends on the employer and program that they implement. When an individual doesn’t meet one or more requirements, they do not pass the POET, so the offer is rescinded in most circumstances. If someone does not pass, it goes back to employer. They can choose to set up a program where they can reapply and take it again after, for example, six months.
    Some employers have multiple protocols, and we can create protocols with multiple levels. For example, Sparton has a two-level protocol. The pallet jack is a requirement for level two jobs, so if they don’t pass the push or pull on the pallet jack, then they don’t qualify for jobs in level two.
    At Sparton, once people have failed, if they still want to apply, we let them take the POET again in six months. For a pallet jack, employee badges get a color code to signify that they can’t use the pallet jack. That was a big help for us because it helps us put the right people in the right positions. We started out with just one level of protocol but figured out with fail rates that we needed to split it into two levels so that the POET would not hinder hiring, and so we can get the right people in the right jobs.
  • POET legality

  • Have you had any individuals question the POET, or threaten a lawsuit if they’ve been informed they’ve failed? Any legal issues for letting the employee go, if they failed the POET after being hired?
    In BTE’s 20 years of testing, there are have been 8 complaints filed. All cases from the EEOC or other investigating agency have resulted in “no reasonable cause.” No case has proceeded to a lawsuit.
    Sparton has not experienced any legal questioning. We are thorough in explaining the process to candidates prior to testing. A major component of that is making sure they understand the primary benefit is to them and that the end goal of the program is to avoid injuries to humans, and that there are no winners if we hire someone that is physically unable to perform the job without an elevated risk of injury.
  • Is the POET subject to or in line with EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission)?
    Yes, the POET program abides by the requirements outlined in the EEOC’s Uniform Employee Selection Guidelines.
  • Specificity of POET to the physical job demands

  • Are the POETs designed to be job or task specific? Does this require job specific hiring or task specific hiring? Or, if someone changes roles, do they need to perform a second POET?­
    POET protocols are based on specific jobs or job groups based on the employer’s placement procedures. If an employee transfers to a different job group with heavier physical demands, another POET test is required.
  • To what extent can you test onsite job demands?
    Our proprietary evaluation technology includes load cells and force gauges with multiple attachments to fit the demand we are measuring. We can measure push/pull forces, weight, grip, and pinch.  Our tools have the capacity to measure up to 250 pounds. There are some instances where the environment is difficult to test. For example, with food and beverage companies, we wait to take measurements after the production run and before the sterile cleaning process. With efficient schedules, that can be a tight window.
  • In my experience each person tends to have their own technique on how to perform a job­. How do you deal with that?
    We encounter that too! First, we check if there is a standard operating procedure that mandates the method. If not, we look at and measure the methods by whicha task is performed. If the demand can be done differently, during the POET, we will offer the candidate different positions so they can choose what will work best for them. Because the demand may be new to the client, we also offer the opportunity to practice the position. Lastly, some physical demands are actually anthropometric, such as pushing a cart with neutral forearms at chest height. So, in the POET, we adjust the height and handles to match the candidate.
  • Can you test posture, grip strength, or muscle activation?
    In a POET environment, you can measure postural tolerance and grip strength as long as the physical demand is related to an essential job function. BTE also incorporates baseline ROM without a pass/fail component for subsequent utility purposes should there be a future claim, e.g. claim apportionment.
  • How is the test assembled to be representative of an 8 hour work day to accurately represent demands performed in that period? How long does the testing take?­
    The test takes on average 45-60 minutes, and we test demands to the frequency determined during the Physical Demands Analysis. We use the frequency definitions provided by US Department of Labor – Occasional (1-33%), Frequent (34-66%), and Constant (67-100%).  With any physical job, there is a conditioning component that POETs will not fully measure against, however, our test order is carefully considered to provide progressive loading.
  • Is all the POET testing isometric? If so, have there been any challenges applying these testing standards to the dynamic nature of the work tasks?
    No, the testing includes a combination of isometric testing, dynamic testing, work simulation, postural tolerance, etc. When measuring the job demands, we capture dynamic force curves and base the isometric test on the peak force and positioning at that peak force. Isometric testing is well published as the safest, most reliable form of strength testing.
  • How do you test for grip strength? Any protocol I have encountered has very high variability and is unreliable.
    We test for grip strength using BTE’s proprietary solid state grip dynamometers that are regularly calibrated. We would agree that older, manual, hydraulic-based grip devices tend to be quite unreliable and are rarely calibrated.
  • Are the POETs designed to be task or job specific? How can you differentiate between the two?
    Job tasks are a subset of the essential functions of a specific job or job group. POET protocols are designed to measure the physical demands required to perform the job.
  • How are postures considered in the testing? In your slide about onsite data collection a female was picture with her wrist pronated and flexed around a handle bar that was being used to push the box. However, when actually performing this job of pushing a box you would likely have the hands open andin an extended wrist posture to push. This is why I am questioning the accuracy of the testing.
    Great eye! However, you will see that the referenced photo shows an evaluator measuring the demand, not an actual simulated POET test environment. For the actual POET, we use a variety of proprietary attachments that simulate pushing against a flat surface or the corners of a box, allowing for accurate testing. The job candidate can push either with flat palms and wrists in extension.  Conversely, if you have a pull demand that does not support a cylindrical grip, we have attachments replicate the grip found during the physical demand analysis.
  • Starting a new POET program at your company

  • Kevin, you talked about measuring the cost of inaction and cost avoidance. Are there any other metrics you used to bring that message brought to your management team?
    This is a case by case answer. The cost of inaction is most important, and the rest of it is collecting the real data. In this instance, I was looking for contributing factors and causes for the injuries we were experiencing. We did present the potential for improved employee satisfaction, improved employee efficiency, and reduced turnover by ensuring employees are physically suited to their job.
  • Who determines what the “standard” way is to perform a job?
    Setting the standard is a collaborative event. We take several measures and work with data points within a coefficient of variation less than 10%. From there, our team makes a recommendation for the ‘standard,’ however, it is reviewed and approved by the client.
  • Who determines if your testing is truly representational of the site demands?
    Our tests are developed by our clinical team after extensive jobsite visits to measure job demands and to interact with SME’s to determine the Essential Job Functions and physical demands. The preliminary test protocols are reviewed with the employer and we typically test incumbent workers to obtain feedback on the accuracy of the test design.
  • Now that you know the testing requirements; have you considered testing current employees and offering them a program to help them reach the standards? Is there an option for current employees that never went through POET?
    If an employee is transferring jobs or returning to work following an extended work absence, e.g. 30 days, then a POET or Fit For Duty test can be performed. Performing medical testing on employees in general is prohibited under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
  • Can POET be used for work conditioning exercises?
    We can design a POET test that sets criteria that would allow for a period of work conditioning to allow new hires to progress to the required job demands.
  • Additional Questions

  • Has BTE done this level of analysis and / or service for acute care hospitals? with a nursing union?
    Yes, we have designed tests for acute care hospitals and nursing home facilities. A majority of our clients have unions, so we engage union leadership to participate in the test development and validation process.
  • Is Sparton a union labor force environment? If so, any pushback?
    No, Sparton is not a union labor force.

Meet the experts

Kevin Farthing, MBA, ASP, ASHM
EHS Manager
Sparton Corporation
Kevin brings over 20 years of experience in Manufacturing Engineering, Industrial Engineering & Environmental Health & Safety Management. He is a Board Certified Associate Safety Professional and a Certified Associate Safety & Health Manager.  Kevin has a BS in Industrial Technology as well as a MBA. Kevin is certified Six Sigma Black Belt.  Kevin has experience in driving highly successful work injury prevention programs across many types of manufacturing.

Kari Herndon, COTA/L, CEAS
Clinical Specialist
Kari Herndon is a Clinical Lead Specialist for BTE. As a Licensed Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant and Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist, she has over 20 years of experience providing injury prevention services in the state of Florida and throughout the United States.  As a Lead Clinician for BTE’s Workforce Solutions Team, Kari delivers client-driven services by performing physical demand analyses, ergonomic evaluations, and post-offer employment protocols, utilizing BTE’s proprietary technology and processes. Kari has provided injury prevention services across industries; including manufacturing, maritime, medical, education, energy, and transportation.