The role of functional assessments in employee screening

Selecting the right people for the right roles

By Heather Petro (B.Sc. Physiotherapy, MBA)

In an age where people are working for longer, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the right people are hired for the right roles. Workers may be required to work remotely, drive commercially, interact with the public, perform manual tasks or complete any number of other physical and mental demands, which is why it is critical to ensure that the worker is able to safely perform the inherent requirements of the role. Selecting candidates who are able to perform these inherent requirements forms the building blocks for a sustainable and effective injury prevention and workforce health risk management strategy.

Pre employment screening is a valuable way to gather more detailed information regarding whether or not a candidate is fit for the inherent requirements of the prospective role so that job matching can take place. With that in mind, it’s also important to consider the types of tests that are selected as part of the overall pre employment assessment or screen. Pre employment assessments should aim to mirror the inherent requirements of the role and often include modules such as manual handling, visions, hearing, spirometry, functional assessments, drug & alcohol testing – to name a few.

Functional Assessments

Across a number of industries, musculoskeletal injuries account for a large portion of overall workers compensation claims and workplace injuries. Which is why companies are looking for ways to better assess musculoskeletal fitness and functional tolerance as part of the pre employment process. Here’s what you need to know about functional assessments:

Why are functional assessments needed?

  • Functional assessments form part of an effective risk mitigation strategy as they help to identify whether or not a candidate has the physical and functional capacity to perform the job role safely and effectively.
  • They ensure that the organisation is fulfilling their health and safety obligations and duty of care.
  • Functional assessments are used as a baseline test for further health monitoring.
  • They enable job matching to take place and where applicable modifications to the role or task to accommodate an individual’s unique needs.

When are functional assessments needed?

  • Functional assessments are complete as part of the overall pre employment screening process and the results are utilised as part of the HR recruitment decision making process. These type of assessments are done prior to employment offers being made.
  • Functional assessments can also be undertaken when an existing employee is looking to move job roles within the same organisation.
  • The functional movement assessments are completed as part of fitness testing for return to work following injury and/ or medical conditions.

How is it determined which functional assessment tests are needed?

In order to create tailored/job specific functional assessments, an organisation requires the following detailed information:

  • A comprehensive list of the various job roles within the organisation
  • A detailed breakdown of the inherent physical and cognitive demands of the various job roles within the organisation (Job Task Analysis). 

What do functional assessments include?

Functional assessments include a combination of subjective questioning as well as various objective functional tests.

Some of the test that may be performed as part of a functional/musculoskeletal assessments may include:

  • Postural observation – observation of neck, back and foot alignment
  • Joint range of movement testing – testing the amount of active and/or passive amount of movement that is available at the various body joints.
  • Neural tissue mobility testing – testing the neural tissue mobility in the spine, arms and legs.
  • Muscle strength testing – testing strength of muscles in the muscle groups of the arms, legs and trunk.
  • Joint mobility palpation – palpation assessment of the passive mobility of the joints of the limbs at end range and of the vertebral joints.
  • Job specific functional tests- these physical tests simulate specific job tasks. Some examples of these tests include:
  • Lifting 10 kg from floor to waist height
  • Climb a six step stepladder using three points of contact
  • Reach overhead to raise and lower up to 6 kg
  • Carrying 10 kg over a two metre distance
  • Achieve full squat position.

Sample Functional Assessment Process

  • The candidate completes a pre-determined pre employment questionnaire before attending a face to face functional assessment.
  • Informed consent (permission) is obtained in writing.
  • Candidate undergoes verbal pre screening to identify any contra-indications to physical/functional assessment testing.
  • Candidate heart rate and blood pressure is measured prior to commencement of the assessment. In instances where contra-indications have been identified, the candidate is referred to their General Practitioner (GP) for further assessment and GP clearance is required prior to commencing the functional assessment.
  • If medical parameters are within normal limits, the functional assessment is completed and the candidate is monitored throughout the assessment.

Who will give the functional assessment tests?

A functional or musculoskeletal assessment can be performed by a number of different health professionals, including doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. At Bodycare Workplace Solutions, we utilise trained and experienced physiotherapists to complete our functional assessments.   Physiotherapists undergo a four year degree and as part of their training are thoroughly educated on physical/functional fitness. They are well suited to perform thorough functional assessments due to their extensive knowledge of the body and musculoskeletal system. Physiotherapists also have excellent body movement (kinesiology) observational and analysis skills and are able to complete a Job Task Analysis in order to assess the environmental, physical and cognitive demands of various job roles.

Functional Assessments as Part of Employee Screenings

Job role specific/tailored functional assessments are highly valuable when completed as part of a pre employment assessment or screen. They are a great tool to determine whether or not a candidate is fit for the role and are highly effective at reducing the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries occurring (see the Bodycare Workplace Solutions injury prevention cycle below). The assessments provide relevant and timely information that is utilised by HR in the recruitment decision making process by allowing more accurate selection of the right employee for the right role.

Hire right continuum of care
Bodycare Workplace Solutions injury prevention cycle