Frequently Asked Questions about Physical Ability Testing

How will hiring stronger workers reduce injuries? Overexertion is a leading cause of back injuries to workers performing physically demanding jobs.  Overexertion is caused by a mismatch between the worker's capability and the physical demands of the task.  Stronger workers can perform demanding tasks without overexertion and are less susceptible to injuries.  As more and more stronger workers are hired, fewer injuries occur.

What about the Americans with Disabilities Act?   Isn't it illegal to discriminate against persons with disabilities?

The ADA defines a individual with a disability as a person who has a medical condition so severe as to limit the person's ability in "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working" (ADA - 1630.1.)  The disability must be so severe, that it has a substantial impact on the ability of the disabled person to perform the necessary activities of daily living (bushing teeth, combing hair, etc.) Mere weakness is not a disability. If a job can be shown to require a specific level of strength, the employer has a right to test persons for that level of strength and hire the most qualified individual for the job.  The poorly qualified, the unprepared, and persons with low levels of ability, have no basis to challenge the employer's employment decision. If an employer tested ten persons for a job and selected the highest scorer, the ADA does not require the employer hire the worst performer on the test because that person also had a significant medical or mental condition that limited a major life activity.

Is it true that the ADA specifically permits employers to set production standards?

Yes.  Employers are permitted to set qualitative and quantitative production standards for their workers.  The language of the ADA gives considerable leeway to employers in this regard and accordingly state: is not the intent of this part to second guess an employer's business judgment with regard to production standards.   Consequently, production standards will generally not be subject to a challenge under this provision (ADA - 16.30.10).
This is significant for physical testing since an employer can determine that it is an essential function of the job for workers to be able to move, say, 50 lb.  boxes at a rate of 20 boxes per minute.  The disabled applicant, capable of moving two boxes per minute, has no grounds to challenge the employer's carefully constructed performance standard or the test used to determine the individual's ability to move 50 lb.  boxes at the established rate.

What do physical ability tests look like?

There are two basic types of physical ability tests.  The work sample and the ability test.  Work samples mimic a portion of the job.  Ability tests measure human capabilities necessary to perform the job.  Each test type has certain advantages and both have certain disadvantages.  Selection of the test type depends on the situation in which it will be used.  For an example of a simulation test, click here.  To see an example of a isometric strength test, click here.

What about Functional Capacity Evaluations?

Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCEs) are often confused with valid and reliable employment selection tests. These expensive tests are used to assess the progress of injured workers during rehabilitation. According to independent analysis, the vast majority of these tests have never been validated or subjected to reliability studies. Click here for a 1998 review of 28 commercial FCE systems. Click here and here for two 2004 peer-reviewed journal articles describing the lack of validity and reliability of commerical Functional Capacity Evaluations. Unless the FCE has been tailored to the individual job according to the requirements of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, the use of these tests in the selection process places employers in legal jeopardy. For a more detailed discussion of these issues, click here.

How do I know if your test is valid?

A validation study will be performed.  The study will establish an empirical relationship between the lifts workers perform on the job and isometric strength tests.  The validation study will demonstrate that high performance on the test is related to safe performance on the job.

Who can validate the strength test?

There are many professions with members capable of validating a strength test.  Industrial psychologists, human factors experts, personnel testing specialists, and educational psychologists are among the those groups most closely associated with test validation.  The most important qualifications are education, training and experience with test validation, an understanding of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Testing Procedures and the standards promulgated by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

How much does this cost?

This depends on factors such as the number of facilities, number of workers, types of jobs included in the study, the scope of the study, travel, etc.  A typical strength test validation study can cost between $15,000 and $100,000 depending on the aforementioned factors.  Given that an average back injury can cost $18,000, the cost of test validation is negligible.

How much does the testing equipment cost?

Many occupational medicine facilities have this equipment already or existing equipment can be utilized.  If a given location does not have easy access to equipment it is relatively inexpensive isometric tests can be obtained for less than $4,500.  Clinics usually charge between $75 and $100 to administer the examination using the equipment.  Some larger employers have purchased their own equipment and use it to test their own job applicants as part of the testing program. To see a nine minute video (Windows Media Player) produced by one employer about its own testing program, click here.

Is there a way to measure the success of a strength testing program?

If strength testing were implemented in one facility, the injury rate of the screened group could be compared to that of an unscreened group over time.  An appropriate study design could be developed based on the unique factors associated with your organization.

Why isn't anyone else doing this?

Many employers are instituting strength testing programs for new hires.  At the present time the oil industry, the grocery warehouse industry, and many major utilities use strength testing for physically demanding entry level jobs.  Thousands of other employers perform strength testing on new hires as part of the pre-placement medical examination.

What ongoing service charges are there?

None.  Once MED-TOX has conducted a validation study and trained your personnel or the organization you choose to provide ongoing testing, there are no ongoing charges.

What benefits can be expected from instituting strength testing?

Stronger workers are less likely to suffer overexertion injuries than weak workers.  Stronger and more fit employees experience fewer serious injuries than less strong and less fit workers.  Stronger workers are more productive than weaker workers.  One study showed stronger workers out producing weak workers by a factor of 8 on physically demanding tasks.  That is -- the strongest worker performed the same amount of work as 8 weak workers.  Stronger and more fit workers are less likely to leave the organization with disabling back injuries, thus, reducing turnover.  As workers stay on the job longer, recruitment and training costs decrease and the level of expertise of the work force rises.

If I interview a vendor to provide testing and test validation services, what questions should I ask?

A pdf file of some questions that could be asked can be found here.

If my competitor uses strength testing, who will hire the persons he fails?

The physically unqualified will be hired by those employers with lowest entry-level qualifications and by those who do not effectively test new hires for physically demanding jobs.