Physical safety is important at work. It’s even more important in industries that require heavy labor. Employers can teach employees skills to be safe. Proper lifting can protect knees and backs. The right footwear can prevent slips and falls. All of these precautions can prevent on-the-job incidents. But what if there were a way to prevent potential injuries before an employee’s first day on the job?
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we are joined by Rocky Newsom, EHS Supervisor for US Tool Group. He has over 13 years of experience in safety and holds an ergonomics certification. Newsom helps employers develop post-offer employment testing (POET), using his background in engineering and physical therapy. His commitment to safety and rehabilitation leads to improved workplace safety.
First, we’ll share the basics the of post-offer employment testing. Then we’ll talk about costs involved, including the money employers can expect to spend and save. Finally, we’ll discuss why this program can be extremely valuable for for both employers and future employees.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Post-offer employment testing 101
Adding a new hire to the team is an important decision for an employer. First, they pick a candidate. Then, there’s an interview or two. But how can an employer know if a job candidate can do everything they say they can?
The purpose of post-offer employment testing (POET) is to make sure that an employee is physically capable of performing a specific job. Business owners carry out a job analysis for a role. This creates a set of qualifications. A potential candidate must meet those standards before being able to take the job. A physical or occupational therapist usually completes the assessment. They have the ability to ask questions about medical history that employers legally can’t.
For example, a job might require that an employee be able to lift 100 pounds. Can the employee lift the weight easily and safely? Do they have any problems with flexibility or strength? Further, can they do it more than once? Testing helps answer these questions.
POET: A preventative approach
POET is all about prevention. It prevents employees who may not be physically right for the job from being injured in the future. But a failed test doesn’t always mean an employee won’t be hired. “It’s not necessarily to weed people out of jobs,” Newsom explained. “It’s to help ensure that they’re, you know, going to have a lesser chance of hurting themselves and be able to sustain long-term employment.” POET provides business owners with options, like:
- Alternatives. An employer may alter a role to fit an employee’s physical capabilities.
- Conditioning. An employee may need time to get in the right shape for the job.
- Documentation. A record is made of previous injuries or current limitations.
Pre-existing health issues
Newsom often finds that POET reveals health issues that employees themselves don’t always know about. It’s normal to see a slightly higher heart rate or blood pressure. Some employees are nervous about the tests. However, extremely high numbers can be a warning sign. If they are too high, then the test is usually discontinued.
For other employees, the tests provide much-needed answers. They may be in pain, and have never visited a doctor. “We’ve had people that never knew why their hands were numb when they came from their previous employer,” he shared, “But now they know that information.” Many opt to seek medical treatment before they continue on their job search. For example, Newsom ran into a former candidate whose test had been stopped. The results pointed not only to diabetes, but also a heart issue. Without POET, the candidate admitted, he never would have known.
Protection for employers
POET programs also serve as protection for employers. A therapist can help put the test together; Newsom recommends an industrial, physical, or occupational one. The test creates a baseline of the employee’s ability. Medical professionals help identify where employees might have limitations, like their knees or back.
If there’s an on-the-job incident later, then Newsom often refers back to the test. Was this an issue the employee had before? Or one caused by their time on the job? Before POET, almost every injury was considered a work comp claim. But POET can help draw a line between injuries and chronic conditions. The goal of recovery and rehab becomes returning the employee back to baseline – not trying to fix an issue they had before they arrived.
POET: Costs and savings
Business owners pay careful attention to their budgets. Most aren’t looking for extra expenses. However, POET is one that can pay off in the long run. Testing does have upfront costs. Newsom finds that testing a candidate starts at around $200. There is also a fee for the time of a therapist, who will help create a test that fits the job or workplace. This may cost around $100 an hour. A full day of their time might average $1000.
If a candidate fails or struggles with a test, then some employers opt for further testing. Newsom favors the Upper Quadrant test. It studies function in the arms, hands, and shoulders. The test reveals how severe an upper extremity problem might be, like carpal tunnel syndrome. The results can help verify claims. Newsom often has employees retested if medical issues show up later. “If the results are the same, we’re pretty much done with the claim,” he explained. “If the numbers are higher, then obviously that gives them some validity – ‘Okay, we’ve aggravated and increased the symptoms of what you had before’.”
POET may seem like an unnecessary add to a budget. But to Newsom, it can provide solid evidence that your investment in the program is doing what it should. How much will skipping a POET screening save, compared to the cost of a future claim? For example, he’s seen carpal tunnel claims cost up to $35,000. Carpal tunnel isn’t life-threatening. However, it is common and needs to be treated. “If I can prevent one of those, I could pretty much sponsor all of my ergonomics and POETs and all the different things that I do for the year.”
The benefits of POET
The value of a POET program extends beyond preventing injuries. It benefits both employees, employers, and the business as a whole by:
- Driving experience modification rate (e-mod) down. E-mod reflects a business’s loss history. POET provides employers with an opportunity to spot the potential for injuries before an employee even walks through the door.
- Lowering premium costs. E-mod helps determine premium costs. The fewer injuries there are, the lower the e-mod will be. And the lower the e-mod, the better premium rates available to the business will be.
- Finding the right talent. To many employers, testing future talent can sound like a waste of time. But employees need to be both skilled and in the right physical condition to succeed.
Newsom recommends that any employer interested in POET:
- Seek out a nearby industrial or physical therapist. See if they’ll do an hour of free consultation. This can help determine if they’re the right fit for your workplace.
- Start asking questions. What other services or testing are available locally? Which ones are the right fit for the business?
Every employee wants to present their best to a future employer. But employers need to make sure open roles are the best for them. “Everyone is an athlete when they walk into your place,” Newsom shared. POET ensures they can maintain that kind of performance – or provides a warning that injuries may be on the horizon.