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Post-Offer Physicals Prevent Injuries at Work

Every seven seconds, an American is injured on the job, according to the National Safety Council. That totals up to 7 million injuries a year, resulting in an average of 21 days of disability per injury. Back and upper extremity injuries can easily triple that number.

Safety hazards are the primary cause of workplace illnesses and injuries. Depending on the industry, this could include chemical, physical, or ergonomic hazards present at work. While most incidents can be prevented with a positive safety culture and frequent safety training, accidents, unfortunately, still occur.

As you analyze your workplace safety protocols and strive to protect your staff, there’s a key element to note: you can’t anticipate what will present as a hazard to every team member.

Sometimes, at-risk people work in safety-sensitive occupations that put them, their colleagues, or their companies in physical or legal jeopardy. Often, these employees don’t even know they’re susceptible to the hazards in their environment—until an incident occurs.

As an employer, you’re tasked with protecting your workers above all else. Therefore, it’s crucial to discover if an employee is a good fit for a physically demanding post before an injury happens.

Many employers, particularly in industrial, manufacturing, and construction industries, utilize the post-offer physical to determine role suitability.

What Is a Post-offer Physical?

A post-offer physical is a test conducted for an employee after a company makes an offer of employment. This exam can tell you if a prospective team member has the physical capacity to perform their job safely and effectively.

You should contract with a licensed medical professional such as a physician or a nurse practitioner, typically your workers’ compensation provider, to conduct the exam. They will provide you with the results and help you interpret their findings.

What should a post-offer physical include?

You will work with your provider to decide what you need to learn about each employee’s physical capacity. In general, the doctor or nurse practitioner will investigate four specific target areas: strength, endurance, physical capacity, and overall physical fitness.

Specifically, a post-offer physical might look at a candidate’s medical history, pre-existing conditions, range of motion, lift strength, limb strength, and body fat and weight. Most importantly, what is measured in the physical exam should match the physical abilities section of your published job description.

How Does a Post-Offer Physical Work?

Your company first extends an offer of employment contingent on passing the post-offer physical exam. Explain to the candidate that this exam consists of medical, physical, and non-medical tests designed to make sure they can fulfill all job requirements safely.

Then, the candidate visits your approved healthcare provider who performs the physical. The provider may ask the candidate if they take any medications, have allergies, or have had prior surgeries. They may also inquire about lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking, and exercise.

The provider could choose to examine the candidate by feeling for lumps, growths, or tenderness and listening to their heart and lungs through a stethoscope. Often, they’ll check the candidate’s reflexes and their abilities to sit, stand, walk, talk, and think.

After the exam, the doctor will send the relevant results to your company. If the prospective employee passes, you know they can perform the physical functions of the job. However, if they fail, you must decide if you want to take the risk and hire them. Sometimes, you can simply make reasonable accommodations for your preferred candidate to bring them on board safely.

What Can You Learn from a Post-Offer Physical?

In a post-office physical, you can uncover valuable information. Most important is a candidate’s history of impacting injuries.

For example, let’s say you are hiring for a job that requires lifting 20-pound boxes and placing them at various heights on shelves. You send a candidate to the healthcare provider for an exam. Their report informs you that your potential employee had rotator cuff surgery 12 months ago. The doctor or nurse practitioner could ask the employee to perform the task in their office to see what capacity appears to be and add their observations to the report.

With this information in hand, you can ask better questions, such as:

  • Is reinjury likely?
  • How much of this position’s day is spent doing this activity?
  • How much risk is our company willing to accept?

How to Implement a Post-Offer Physical Policy

Start by analyzing the job’s physical requirements. Then, you can talk with supervisors and employees who currently hold the position to learn about frequent physically demanding activities or hazards native to the occupation.

This step offers an excellent opportunity to review your published job descriptions. Have you accurately represented the physical strenuousness of the role? If not, you can update your postings and descriptions. You may even want to list examples of the physical demands of the job in your advertisements.

From there, create a comprehensive job demands analysis. Finally, you will use this analysis to determine what the post-offer physical exam should entail.

Next, reach out to your workers’ compensation provider to see if they offer a post-offer physical exam as a service. If so, they should create a list of essential function tests and validate those with you. Remember, you’re not getting an annual wellness check on this prospective team member. You just want to know if they have the physical capacity to do the job the right way and without getting hurt.

Finally, you need to create a pre-employment physical demands testing process. Your healthcare provider should be able to walk with you through this.

Is a Post-Offer Physical Policy Legal?

Yes! Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s regulations, you can conduct a post-offer physical. Just like you can conduct a drug test after making an offer of employment, you can also conduct a medical test to make sure the candidate you want to hire can safely perform the physical demands of their job.

Provided you use the same job analysis metric for your medical tests that you used for your job description, you can transfer an employee between job sites or even between states without conducting another exam. This is especially valuable to large employers operating multiple locations across state lines.

If an employee is transferring positions, a new pre-employment physical could be necessary. In general, team members moving to a more physically demanding job should see a provider. Those transferring to a less strenuous role probably will not need reassessment.

OSHA can require certain employees to get vaccinated for Hepatitis A or MMR. You can also legally recommend or require your at-risk employees to take sensible occupational health and safety precautions in your work setting.

However, one point to be aware of is that you should not have access to a candidate’s medical records beyond what is required for your job offer. Again, a testing company or labor law attorney can help you make sure you’re staying on the right side of HIPAA regulations.

Benefits of a Post-offer Physical

Approximately 10% of those who undertake the post-offer physical will “fail.” This means, by requiring this exam, you helped protect these workers from a potentially life-changing injury.

In addition, new hires will better understand the physical demands of the position before they sign up to work with you. Even better, these prospective employees now know you care about them and are committed to their well-being at work. This can lead to an increase in worker retention.

Finally, a post-offer physical helps keep workplace accidents at bay, protecting your employees and business.

Workplace injuries cost your employees money, their well-being, and potentially loss of future income potential. Injuries are also costly to your company and cause loss of time, money, and productivity.

The best way to prevent workplace injuries is to frequently train your workers on potential hazards and promote a safe work culture. Ready to train your staff? National Safety Compliance can help you get started. We offer all-in-one video kits with everything you need to prepare your workers on vital safety topics, including back safety; slips, trips, falls; and bloodborne pathogens.

After training, since not every hazard affects every employee equally, you can decrease injury risks by screening out vulnerable employees from safety-sensitive posts.

A post-offer physical exam is a legal, proven, and cost-effective way to protect your workforce and save your company money.

If you’d like to learn more about post-offer physicals, watch our recent Injury Prevention for Workplaces webinar featuring Denice Rankin, a workers compensation and HR generalist.

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