A physical demands analysis (PDA) determines what physical requirements a person needs in order to perform a particular job. PDA is interchangeable with functional capacity evaluation, and physical demands checklist. The goal of these evaluations is to ensure that an employee, or potential employee, is physically suited to the role at hand. They are used for a variety of job duties and PDAs are unique to each company, with each firm carrying out PDAs in their own way. There is no standard method of carrying out a PDA and the format of the resulting document depends on the particular company. (Learn more in "When To Use A Functional Capacity Evaluation").

Why do Firms Carry Out PDAs?

Employee Screening

PDAs are often required to ensure that an employee is physically capable of performing a job that has certain physical requirements. The PDA lists the physical requirements of the job, and all employees must be capable of meeting them in order to perform the job safely without creating a hazard, and to the required standard. (Learn more in "Introduction to Hazard Identification Studies"). These requirements fall into a few broadly defined categories: mobility, posture, lifting, carrying, pulling, gripping, pushing, fine finger movement, and writing. For example, a warehouse worker will likely need to have full mobility and experience no difficulty in lifting, pushing, or pulling. A skilled technician will often be required to have full fine finger movement and writing ability, or have accommodations due to any disability.

Returning Employees to Work After Injury

A PDA will often need to be carried out in case of an injured employee returning to work. The injured party may have restrictions placed on them by their physician and a PDA can be used to determine whether such restrictions will affect the employee's ability to perform the job. A PDA assists in finding out whether an injured employee needs to be moved to alternative roles that can accommodate the disability. (Learn more in "The Importance of Determining an Employee's Pre-Existing Injuries").

Benefit Entitlement

PDAs are carried out for purposes of benefit entitlement as well. If an employee is unable to work following injury, a PDA serves as a legal document indicating their status as unfit for work. This is required in most cases to receive disability pay.

Concessions for Inclusivity

Some firms may want to make jobs more inclusive and will carry out a PDA to see what concessions can be made to include those less physically able. These accommodations can then be put into place along with any special equipment needed to assist the workers.

Best Practices and Training

Companies will carry out a PDA to address safety concerns. Jobs that require a dangerous element need to be closely monitored for best practice and health and safety training and a PDA will highlight any dangers relating to the role.

Identifying Personal Protective Equipment Requirements

Some industries such as construction, mining, and other heavy industry, have inherent dangers relating to heavy machinery and harmful substances. In such cases, a PDA will identify specific dangers and mandate that workers use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves. This can include hardhats, face masks, appropriate footwear, and specific assistive machinery. This also applies to office scenarios. In case of office based injuries like back pain, repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, and eye problems relating to over use of computers, a PDA will be carried out to try to remove these hazards. It may recommend the use of ergonomically designed chairs, designated breaks, ergonomic keypads, specific lighting, and other safety adjustments.

Who in the Firm Carries Out PDAs?

PDA are typically the responsibility of the broader HR departments, but the assessment itself will be carried out an occupational health professional. This person must be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act or the governing regulations of the country by which the work place is governed. PDAs must conform to all governmental regulations. Firms may carry out their own PDAs, or contract an external service provider, if they do not possess the skills and resources in-house.

The Value of Independent Firms Carrying Out PDAs

When carrying out PDAs, companies may find a conflict of interest between their bottom line and catering to the needs and rights of their employees. This is why an independent PDA by a third party is valuable. An external provider can give objective insight into the requirements of employees' physical requirements without being affected by factors such as cost, inconvenience or any culture against making concessions. External PDA providers focus on just one thing: workers' well-being.

The Importance of Measurements, Not Estimations

In any job with pushing, pulling, and gripping activity, there is risk of injury to employees by engaging in activities they are not well suited to carry out. The physical demands of many jobs require exact measurements of what an employee can be reasonably be expected to do without injury. It is therefore crucial for a PDA service to take include measurements in order to know how much force is required to move or handle certain objects, any mechanical assist devices, ergonomic aids, and whether employees are physically capable of performing these functions without suffering injury. (Learn more in "6 Ergonomic Aids for Employees Who Work in a Standing Position"). It is crucial to ascertain the exact weights of all objects in all essential functions and that managers refrain from estimating what he or she thinks an employee can handle.

Communicating PDAs to Employees with Posters

It is important that employees' are aware of the physical requirements for their jobs. It is a good idea to create posters/diagrams in work areas so staff know exactly the requirements of their work activities. It establishes best practice by creating awareness of safety protocol and also gives employees the chance to become familiar with the physical demands of their essential functions. By knowing what is required, employees can better understand whether they are fit to perform their essential functions and communicate any concerns if they feel unable to meet them.

The Bottom Line

PDAs are very important for a wide range of purposes. Without a PDA, fit for work testing is less effective as you do not actually know what is required for the job. (Learn more in "How to Set Up a Fit-for-Work Testing Program"). They are also critical to ensuring that your company adheres to all health safety regulations and conforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act, OSHA, other relevant governmental regulation, and reducing worker's compensation issues. (Learn more in "8 Step To Reduce Workers' Compensation Costs"). They are a fundamental part of providing safe working environments for employees and allow firms to return employees to work in a way that both retains the employees' skills and conforms to the law.