What is Fitness-to-Work Testing and why is critical to establishing a strong health and safety culture? In today’s blog, we’ve asked one of the industry’s top advisors, Dean McDougall, to give you the 411 on fit-to-work testing.
What is Fitness-to-Work testing?
Fitness-to-Work testing is a medical assessment done when an employer wishes to be sure an employee can safely do a specific job or task. The testing is typically performed by a healthcare provider who will evaluate the testing participant on their overall physical function and health status, to determine if they have the necessary strength and conditioning to perform the critical work tasks of their role.
Fitness-to-Work testing will typically involve the following components:
- Collection of vitals: this component includes collecting the testing participants’ vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, height, and weight. This component is an important safety measure during testing to ensure the individual is not exhibiting any immediate safety concerns or red flags to completing testing.
- Comprehensive health interview: this component focuses on understanding the testing participant’s overall health and medical status, to rule out any serious medical conditions or illnesses that could pose a risk to them while performing their work tasks, or to completing the physical fitness component of their Fitness-to-Work test.
- Comprehensive musculoskeletal examination: this component focuses on examining the testing participant from head-to-toe; evaluating their muscles, joints and connective tissue (such as ligaments and tendons) to ensure they are all functioning properly. Any findings identified during this component of the testing can play a role in recommendations for workplace modifications or accommodations that might be suitable for the individual.
- Physical fitness evaluation: this component looks at the individual’s overall strength and cardiovascular capabilities, relative to the physical demands of their role. Testing participants will complete various tasks (such as lifting and carrying) in different positions or scenarios, to allow the evaluator to get a sense of their overall lifting technique, strength and conditioning capabilities
What are the typical outcomes of Fitness-to-Work testing?
Once testing is completed, the evaluator will make a fitness determination on the status of the testing participant, based on the information collected and observed. Typically, this takes the form of one of three outcomes:
- Fit: the testing participant is able to safely perform the required work tasks of their job role.
- Unfit: the testing participant is not able to safely perform the required work tasks their job role.
- Fit with limitations: the testing participant is able to perform most of the required work tasks of their job role, but require some form of accommodation or restriction for specific work tasks.
Why is Fitness-to-Work testing important when establishing a strong health and safety culture?
A strong health and safety culture in an organization isn’t just about having low incident or injury rates. It’s about instilling a feeling of comfort and security in all workers so they know their organization is doing everything in its power to be able to keep their employees safe at work. Most health and safety metrics look at what are called “lagging indicators”; meaning you are focusing on things that have already occurred, such as:
- Injury frequency and severity,
- Lost workdays,
- Incidents and near-misses, and
- Worker’s compensation costs.
By implementing strategies that focus more on “leading indicators”, an organization can shift the focus more to prevention and elimination of things that lagging indicators typically track (injuries, lost productivity, compensation costs, etc.). Leading indicators focus on such things as:
- Percentage of your workforce with proper safety training and education,
- Satisfaction level of workforce with current safety standards,
- Attendance rates at safety meetings/toolbox meetings, and
- Frequency of safety checks/audits completed.
Fitness-to-Work Testing: Employer & Employee Perspectives
Fitness-to-Work testing acts as a tool for employers to better understand their workforce’s physical capabilities and potential limitations. This creates the opportunity for employers to act in a proactive manner to ensure their workers are in positions that are best suited to their physical and mental capabilities and to appropriately accommodate for potential disabilities, limitations or impairments that might otherwise put the worker or their co-workers at risk of an incident or injury occurring.
From an employee perspective, Fitness-to-Work testing can put worker’s minds at ease in knowing their co-workers have been evaluated and are capable of completing their work tasks without putting anyone at risk. This piece of mind can go a long way in elevating an organization’s work satisfaction level, which can indirectly impact lagging indicators in a positive manner. Research has shown that employee satisfaction has a significant positive effect on accident costs savings, and occupational safety performance has a significant positive effect on employee satisfaction, and – by extension – accident cost savings. This positive feedback cycle will start to “self-propel” a strong safety culture in the minds of employees, thereby decreasing incident rates, lost workdays and compensation costs.