Open Cut » Health and Safety
According to the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, workplace injuries are costing the Australian coal mining industry and its communities $410 Million a year. With injuries from sprains and strains accounting for about half of these costs, the industry needs to explore alternative ways of measuring and managing the associated risks in an effort to control these staggering costs.
As the industry evolves and matures, functional capacity testing in the pre-employment or post-offer phase of recruitment is increasing in popularity as a positive injury prevention, wellness and health surveillance tool to supplement other medical assessments in the workplace injury risk management process. These assessments typically consist of a series of tests for mobility, strength, fitness, tolerance to different positions and movements, as well as material handling ability like lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Results are often compared to job demands to assist with decisions regarding job placement, task redesign and other risk management strategies such as physical conditioning programs.
Despite the limited published research examining the reliability and validity of functional capacity assessments they are becoming more widely used. With increasing pressure from all stakeholders (legal and health practitioners, workers, insurers and employers) the demand for evidence-based practice is rising. This ACARP study aims to meet those demands by developing a safe, reliable and valid pre-employment functional assessment tool.
All JobFit System Pre-Employment Functional Assessments (PEFAs) consist of a musculoskeletal screen, balance test, aerobic fitness test and job-specific postural tolerances and material handling tasks. The results of each component are compared to the applicant’s job demands and an overall PEFA score between 1 and 4 is given with 1 being the better score.
The reliability study and validity study were conducted concurrently. The reliability study examined test-retest, intra-tester and inter-tester reliability of the JobFit System Functional Assessment Method. Overall, good to excellent reliability was found, which was sufficient to be used for comparison with injury data for determining the validity of the assessment. The overall assessment score and material handling tasks had the greatest reliability. Results have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.
The validity study compared the assessment results of 336 records from a Queensland underground and open cut coal mine with their injury records. A predictive relationship was found between PEFA score and the risk of a back/ trunk/ shoulder injury from manual handling (RR 3.56, 95% CI 1.5 to 8.47). An association was also found between PEFA score of 1 and increased length of employment. Lower aerobic fitness test results had an inverse relationship with injury rates. The study found that underground workers, regardless of PEFA score, were more likely to have an injury when compared to other departments. No relationship was found between age and risk of injury. These results confirm the validity of the JobFit System Functional Assessment method.
A number of conclusions and recommendations were drawn from this project. In summary, the reliability and validity of the JobFit System Functional Health Assessment method means that the Australian mining industry will have the confidence and evidence to use this tool and its standardised processes as a component of their risk management activities for preventing sprains and strains in the workplace. Accurate job demands are critical not only to the validity of the functional assessment but also for ergonomic risk assessments and controls. Both job analyses and worker assessments are snapshots of a moment in time and both need to be reassessed on a regular basis to ensure that the most accurate information is gathered for decision-making purposes. Pre-employment assessments are not foolproof indicators of the occurrence or absence of workplace injury and therefore are only part of the solution. Communication and cooperation between industry stakeholders is vital not only for accurate and comprehensive assessment of data but also if we are to achieve our common goal of reducing the number and costs of sprains and strains in the Australian coal mining industry.