Understanding the PDA and Ergo Services

What is a Physical Demands Analysis (PDA)

A PDA is a process in which a qualified professional analyzes and quantifies the physical demands or requirements of a job (the essential functions of a job – or what has to be done to perform the job effectively). This includes what must be lifted, pushed, pulled, carried, etc., how often these are performed, what movements and postures are present (i.e. reaching, kneeling, squatting, etc.), what tools and equipment are used, the size and weight and in what environment these are being used. Environmental factors such as temperature and noise are often reviewed as well. PDA’s should ideally be reviewed on a regular basis or whenever a job changes and new equipment or tools are implemented.

What is Ergonomics and Ergonomics Risk Assessment (ERA)?

Ergonomics is the science that seeks to minimize or eliminate exposure to injury risk factors by designing tools, equipment, workstations and processes to meet the capabilities of humans. (Injury risk factors include but are not limited to force, awkward posture, frequcnecy and duration). An ERA is a process used to identify ergonomics related risk factors or ergonomic hazards (find the ergonomics problems), evaluate and quantify the risks factors (determine how bad the problems are), and apply the appropriate control strategies (implement solutions to fix the problems). Primary goals of in the ergonomics process are to reduce the risk for injury, while improving human interaction with the work environment, tools and equipment. This leads to improved human performance and overall well-being.

Ergonomics & Physical Demands

Ergonomics and physical demands often go hand in hand. During a PDA, ergonomics injury risk factors should be identified and evaluated along with the physical demand requirements. Think of physical demands as what is required of employees in order to perform the job (what has to be lifted, pushed, pulled, etc.) whereas ergonomics is reviewing how the employee interacts with the job and work performed and what impact the physical demands have on the employee. Then, trying to find ways to reduce the physical demand requirements and make the job safer, easier and more productive for all employees.

Every job has its physical demand requirements, but with increasing physical demands of the job (i.e. having an employee be required to lift more weight), it becomes more difficult for employees, fewer employees are able to safely perform the job and the risk for injury increases. By reducing the physical demands (by implementing ergonomics and appropriate controls), more people are capable of performing the job.

As an example, less than ~10% of the population can lift a 60 lb. box from shoulder to overhead. Does that mean that we should only hire employees that can perform the lift (essentially only 6’2”, 200+ lb. men)? Does that mean that we should effectively eliminate most people (~99% of women and ~90% of men) from performing the task? Although this 60 lb. box needs to be moved and is considered a required physical demand (or essential function), instead, why don’t we change the box, the weight of the box, number of boxes, height of the shelves, or add a lift device? This is an example of ergonomics. Much as is the case with noise, the goal is to find where the noise is excessive and implement ways to minimize the exposure to loud noise in the first place. An ERA simply looks at the risk or likelihood for ergonomic injury which takes place in other parts of the body (neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, wrists, legs, etc.)

Why perform a PDA and ergonomics risk assessment?

Aside from the primary goal of trying to understand what is required of the job and trying to implement methods of making it safer and better for a larger number of employees, the physical demands are used to design a job specific test. This test helps ensure employees are capable of performing the essential functions of the job whether for a future employee, or for an employee returning back to work following an injury. These tests are for everyone’s benefit. This helps the employee understand what the job requires before beginning work, helps the department, supervisor and manager know that an employee is capable of doing the job, and, if an employee is injured, that employee knows they are able to come back to work safely and will be at a low risk for re-injury. CSU after all is committed to a safe and healthy workforce.

What takes place during an Ergonomics & Physical Demands Analysis?

Qualified ergonomics team members will likely meet with employees, supervisors and/or managers and discuss the job and tasks performed, equipment used, etc. Once necessary information has been collected, a review of job tasks performed, tools and equipment used, etc. will take place. Ideally, the review of tasks should take place in ‘real-time’. This gives the ergonomics team a much more accurate sample of the work performed, postures, used, etc.

Information collected during the process includes but is not limited to; written/electronic survey information (i.e. pain & discomfort present, injury history, job task difficulty ratings, etc.), forceful exertion requirements (force to push/pull, weight lifted and/or carried, grip/grasp force, etc.) as well as reach distances, work surface heights, and postures as well as the duration and frequency these are present on the job.

During the evaluation, a video camera will be used to collect video and pictures. Video and pictures of job tasks are reviewed and analyzed later to determine common risk factor exposure (awkward posture, force, frequency, duration, etc.). Without videos and pictures, analysis of job tasks and exposure to risk factors would be near impossible. (If you are a sports fan, think of the video/picture analysis process as reviewing/studying game film. We watch how things are done to better understand where the issues are and analyze the process and find solutions to improve).

Collecting this information is a crucial part of the PDA and ERA process. In order for the PDA to be accurate, the job must be understood. Treat ergonomics team members like new hires…teach ergo team members about the job and how it is done.

What is needed from employees, supervisors and managers?

  • Answer questions about the job when asked. Be honest. Don’t hold back.
  • Tell the ergonomics team about the job and its requirements. We need to understand the job as best we can. Tell ergo team members the following:
    • What are the problem job tasks? Which are most concerning and are physically difficult/challenging? (indicate on surveys – if applicable – as well)
    • What tools and equipment are used? How often these are used and if there is any difficulty during the process?
    • Discuss job tasks that have created pain, discomfort and/or injury and perception on why this might have happened.
    • Share all thoughts, details and ideas.
  • Complete surveys – if applicable – entirely & honestly. Surveys will help us understand where the issues are & generate useful statistics for later use.
  • During observation and videotaping, perform job tasks as usual. Don’t change the normal routine.
    • Tell us why you might perform a task a certain way, what limitations might be, etc.
  • Supervisors – provide data on reports of pain, discomfort and injury.
  • Ask the ergonomics team questions about the process. Understand what is being done.
  • Brainstorm ideas for change. Help ergo team members identify ways to make the job and job tasks easier and reduce the physical demands wherever possible. After all, employees perform the job everyday, likely have a lot of great ideas and are truly the experts in the job.

What will take place following an ERA & PDA?

The data from the ERA will be reviewed and assessed by the CSU Risk Management ergonomics team. Solutions will be identified and recommendations developed. Meetings to further brainstorm and discuss potential solutions should take place to determine what was revealed in the ERA and what solutions are technically and financially feasible. After implementation, a follow up ERA should take place to see what effect the solutions had on the risk for injury and how these solutions reduced the physical demands. This is a continuous process and should take place as often as feasible.

After solutions are implemented and changes to the job are made to the extent feasible, a PDA report will be generated and submitted to the supervisor and any employees that were involved in the process for review. Assuming the report is accurate and reflects the requirements of the job, the report will be filed in the Ergonomics office. The report will be used by the department, CSU HR, OEO, and workers’ comp. office, physicians and other health professionals, etc. The report, which should be an accurate reflection of the job and its requirements, can also be used to develop a job specific test that can be used for new hires or injured employees returning to work.

Contact CSU’s Ergonomics Manager
for additional information or with any questions.