Physical ability testing (PAT) for physically-demanding work

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CHAPTER 3: METHODS AND PROCEDURES: GATHERING INFORMATION

Literature search

For the purposes of this thesis, the following databases were searched: Medline, EBSCO HOST, Science Direct, PsycLit, DIALOG and SPORT Discuss. Databases searched on the World Wide Web included: Google.com, MetaCrawler.com, Altivista.com, Biomednet.com and BJM.com. Information was also gathered in the library of the University of Pretoria and through interaction with other physical work capacity experts in South Africa.

The position identified for the purposes of this study

Seeing that this study was a natural progression from an earlier dissertation, the same position was used for the development of the job accommodation tool. This position is physically-demanding and will from here on in only be referred to as “technician.” These workers are located throughout South Africa in accordance with the needs of the company (SA ELEC) and the group is extremely diverse, including differences in race, culture, age, gender, anthropometrics, work style, work environment and different styles of management.

Identifying the test battery

The test battery used for the purposes of this study was taken from previous research on the identified position, done by Bester (2003). The process followed to get to the test battery will now be described.
The methods used during the job-analysis process in the study by Bester (2003) consisted of the analysis of the official job-description document for the applicable job (see annexure 1), interviews with relevant supervisors and employees, as well as observations and a video analysis of all the physical tasks being performed by the relevant physical workers on a daily basis.

Analysis of the job-description document

A job-description document was used to assist in the identification of the critical physical work outputs applicable to the identified job, as well as the critical physical tasks that were linked to each job output. Studying the job-description document also provided a good general idea of the most physically-challenging tasks. The next step was to talk to the people who performed these tasks on a daily basis.

Interviews

Interviews were conducted with supervisors, colleagues and technicians. The interviews consisted of two parts: (1) identifying the 10 most strenuous tasks, based on the analysis of the job description and the subjective opinions of the employees being interviewed; and (2) subjectively rating each identified task by means of a 10-point scale (based on the RPE scale). After the interviews were conducted, the ten tasks with the highest average rating were selected for the purpose of the study. The interviewed employees identified the following ten tasks as the most strenuous (all ten of these tasks are used in performing the physical outputs identified through the analysis of the job-description document):

  • vegetation control (working with a chainsaw, handsaw, etc.);
  • working with a “stamper” (tool that is used to compress sand, rock and gravel);
  • digging holes in the ground with a pickaxe and a spade;
  • lifting heavy objects from the ground, such as toolboxes, earth bags and branches;
  • working with a “riccor” (tool that tightens cable);
  • working with a “krimper” (tool that compresses cable);
  • lifting a ladder or wooden pole above the head;
  • replacing line components (e.g. transformers and conductors);
  • stringing (manually pulling cables to cover long distances); and
  • foot patrols (walking long distances).

Practical experience / observations and video recordings

Twenty-four hours (two mornings and two full working days) were spent with teams of physical workers in the field. During this time observations and video recordings of all the identified critical physical tasks were made as they were performed by the physical workers and critical information was written down when applicable. Tools and equipment were also measured for weight, thickness, length, etc.

Video analysis

Once the critical tasks were captured on videotape, as they were being performed in the field, the analysis of the tasks could begin. Each task was thoroughly investigated for movements, body angles, exertions, etc. A qualified ergonomist with experience in working with physical workers assisted in the analysis. The objective was to identify the critical movements and exertions involved in performing each task, as the ultimate objective would be to assess each of these critical movements and exertions in a test battery.
The critical movements and exertions (physical demands) that were identified through the analysis of the ten critical tasks were described as follows:

  • lifting heavy objects from the floor to mid-thigh height (one handed) using mainly legs, upper body and arms – toolboxes, earth bags, branches and chainsaws;
  • maximal adduction of the arms (pushing two handles together) – “krimper”, “riccor”, and bolt cutter;
  • lifting heavy objects above the head (two handed) using mainly arms and shoulders – ladders, wooden poles and pickaxes;
  • arm flexion- and general shoulder strength – “stamper”, lifting heavy equipment and tools from a “bakkie” and lifting a “link stick”;
  • back extension strength – pickaxe, spade, chainsaw, stringing and lifting a “link stick”;
  • leg strength – stringing, lifting heavy objects from the ground and climbing a ladder;
  • shoulder endurance – working with smaller tools on (or above) eye level for extended periods when replacing transformers, conductors and other devices;
  • cardiovascular endurance – foot patrols; and
  • grip strength – involved in all manual tasks.
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These nine basic movements and exertions are present in the critical tasks mentioned earlier. In other words these movements and exertions were chosen as the critical physical components / demands that an employee had to be able to perform to a certain extent in order to perform the job satisfactorily. “Balance”, “flexibility” and “trunk stability” were added by SA ELEC and used for the purposes of this thesis as a number of tasks are performed at heights (mostly on ladders), there are a number of bending and stooping tasks and trunk stability is important in most physically-demanding tasks.

The test battery

After Bester (2003) completed a comprehensive pilot study the tests to be used in the test battery were considered to be valid and reliable. It is important to note that Bester (2003) did not design all the tests used for the purpose of this thesis. The electricity supply company, SA ELEC, already implemented a physical ability test battery at that stage and Bester (2003) merely attempted to compliment the test battery that existed with his work specific tests. The idea being that the final product would provide a comprehensive test battery, designed to test all the identified critical physical components / demands.
Here follows the complete test battery used for the purpose of this thesis, including photos, equipment used and detailed descriptions.

Safety tests

Because of the physical nature of the physical ability tests it is always critical that all participants complete an informed consent form before the testing starts and that all forms are checked for relevant information. If any problems are identified through the answers of a participant, the biokineticist should deal with it accordingly. It is also very important to assess resting blood pressure before the actual physical ability testing starts. An individual is not allowed to take part in the physical evaluations if his / her resting systolic blood pressure is above 200 mmHg or if the resting diastolic blood pressure is above 120 mmHg (American College of Sports Medicine, 1991). All the normal contra-indications for physical activity should be applied during physical ability testing since a number of the tests are physically strenuous.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 
SYNOPSIS 
SAMEVATTING 
TABLE OF CONTENTS 
LIST OF TABLES 
LIST OF FIGURES 
LIST OF PHOTOS 
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS 
CHAPTER 1: THE PROBLEM
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Motivation
1.3. Research question
1.4. Research hypothesis
1.5. Goal of the study
1.6. Objectives of the study
1.7. Research approach
1.8. Research design
1.9. Research procedure and strategy
1.10. Definitions of key concepts
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1. Physical ability testing (PAT) for physically-demanding work
2.2. Important physiological components involved in physical ability testing
2.3. Job analysis
2.4. Identifying the test battery for physical ability testing
2.5. Calculating minimum physical requirements (MPR), or “cut-off scores”
2.6. Women in physically-demanding positions
2.7. Ageing workers in physically-demanding positions
2.8. Occupational injuries in physically-demanding positions
2.9. Job accommodation – what is job accommodation
2.10. Job accommodation – why implement job accommodation?
CHAPTER 3: METHODS AND PROCEDURES: GATHERING INFORMATION
3.1. Literature search
3.2. The position identified for the purposes of this study
3.3. Identifying the test battery
3.4. Calculating the minimum physical requirements (MPR)
3.5. Job accommodation tool – breaking the job outputs down into
critical tasks
CHAPTER 4: METHODS AND PROCEDURES: DEVELOPING THE JOB ACCOMMODATION TOOL
4.1. Determine which tests are applicable to which tasks
4.2. Determine the weighting of each physically-demanding  job output
4.3. Finalising the task-specific job accommodation tool
CHAPTER 5: RESULTS
5.1. The final product
5.2. Implementation of the job accommodation tool
CHAPTER 6: IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FINALISED JOB ACCOMMODATION TOOL (THREE CASE STUDIES)
6.1. Case study A
6.2. Case study B
6.3. Case study C
CHAPTER 7: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1. Introduction
7.2. Summary
7.3. Conclusion
7.4. Recommendations
REFERENCES 
ANNEXURE
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