The Cost of Risk: Can they do the job?

A newly hired driver arrives for orientation. He has passed the standard medical exam and seems fit enough. But within a couple of months, he has strained his back and now is on workers’ compensation.

Just your bad luck, right? Not necessarily. If your driver hiring process had involved functional capacity testing, this unfortunate situation might have been prevented.

Using objective and legally compliant procedures, functional capacity testing can help ensure that a prospective worker has the physical capabilities to perform essential job tasks.

Maverick Transportation uses functional capacity testing through a network of providers known as WorkSTEPS ( Drivers for the Little Rock, Ark.-based flatbed carrier must perform a number of fairly strenuous tasks, including climbing on trailers and securing cargo, says John Culp, executive vice president and chief financial officer. Culp discussed Maverick’s experience in a presentation on reducing workers’ comp costs at last month’s meeting of the American Trucking Associations National Accounting and Finance Council, which he chairs.

Maverick uses functional capacity testing to identify people who cannot meet the physical demands of the job, to reduce injuries, to establish baseline data to evaluate claims if necessary and to reduce workers’ comp expense, Culp says. The program involves job-specific medical and functional tests and the collection of baseline health information.

Since Maverick implemented WorkSTEPS in August 2003, 1,291 drivers have been tested at a pass rate of 94.4 percent, Culp says. Reasons for failure include the inability to perform essential tasks, knee instability, high blood pressure, high pulse rate and neck and back strain.

Maverick also uses a fit-for-duty test to qualify drivers returning to work from any kind of medical leave of absence. Since implementation, 133 drivers have been tested, and the failure rate is 3.8 percent, or five drivers. Another five drivers opted not to take the fit-for-duty test and instead resigned, Culp says.

In the four years prior to 2004, Maverick averaged 16 workers’ comp claims a month. In 2004, claims dropped to 12 a month. At an average cost per claim of about $10,000, that would be a gross annual savings of $480,000 and a net savings of $376,000 after deducting the $104,000 annual cost of the WorkSTEPS program to Maverick, Culp says. Maverick can’t attribute all of the decrease in claims to WorkSTEPS, but “we are convinced that it is an integral part of the success,” Culp says. “If drivers cannot pass our test, they do not need to be doing this job. It is not a question of if they will get hurt, but of when they will get hurt.”

Information for intervention
If an employee passes a functional capacity test today, it doesn’t mean he will be able to pass it a year or two from now. Nor is it a guarantee that his physical or medical condition won’t degrade to a point where job performance is affected. The next logical step, therefore, is to identify individuals who might need further intervention and support.

That’s the idea behind CtdMAP, a new risk assessment tool soon to be introduced in North America by WorkWell Systems (, a provider of physical medicine and workers’ comp solutions, including functional capacity testing. CtdMAP is a written test that complements functional testing by giving companies more information that can help them help employees manage disease, says Kevin Schmidt, vice president and general manager of WorkWell. Suppose that out of 100 people, five or 10 fail. “Out of the 90 to 95 percent that pass, you don’t know a lot about these people,” Schmidt says. “There will be folks in there of higher risk for injury.”

By gathering additional information such as age, gender, inherited genetic characteristics, biosocial issues and non-workplace activities, CtdMAP can predict with 90 percent accuracy the likelihood of a musculoskeletal Occupational Safety and Health Administration-recordable event within a year of the test, WorkWell claims.

OSHA offers free interactive software to help companies estimate the impact of occupational injuries on profitability. To download the program, visit this site and search “$afety Pays.”