Functional Capacity Evaluations

According to Facility Safety, businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses, but workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent. Injuries and illnesses increase workers’ compensation and retraining costs while decreasing productivity, morale, and profits. By implementing effective safety and health management systems, businesses operate more efficiently by saving costs associated with worker injuries and illnesses. Conducting a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is an effective safety and health management system because according to the American Occupational Therapy Association, FCE’s evaluate an individual’s capacity to perform work activities related to his or her participation in employment.

The FCE process compares the individual's health status and body functions to the demands of the job and the work environment. Simply stated, an FCE’s primary purpose is to evaluate a person’s ability to participate in work, although other activities of daily living that support work performance may also be evaluated. FCE’s are a great way to conduct fit-for-duty testing. They can help employers ensure that a person has the job-specific functional capacities to perform the essential functions of a job safely. According to the president of WorkSaver Employee Testing Systems, Richard Bunch, Ph. D, PT, CBES, FCE testing has helped industries reduce injuries by more than 68 percent.

Similar types of testing may also be called a functional capacity assessment (FCA), physical capacity assessment or evaluation (PCA or PCE), or work capacity assessment or evaluation (WCA or WCE). The American Occupational Therapy Association says that a well-designed FCE should consist of standardized assessments that offer results in performance-based measures. FCE’s have always measured an individual’s ability to perform the physical demands of a job, but over the last decade, many FCE tests have included evaluation of cognitive demands if applicable. FCE’s require the evaluator to determine the worker’s capability to perform various work-related tasks and whether there is a match between these abilities and the essential job performance requirements.

The components of a FCE vary based on the purpose of the assessment. However, a FCE typically begins with a client interview, medical record review, and musculoskeletal screening. Functional testing may include graded material-handling activities, such as:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Balancing
  • Reaching
  • Stooping
  • Hand coordination
  • Endurance
  • Kneeling
  • Crouching
  • Crawling
  • Object handling/manipulation
  • Hand manipulation
  • Job-specific functions

FCE’s also include pain monitoring to document reported levels of pain during various activities. The FCE report includes:

  • Overall physical demand level
  • Summary of job-specific physical abilities
  • Summary of performance consistency and overall voluntary effort
  • Job match information
  • Adaptions to enhance performance
  • Treatment recommendations, if requested
  • Summary of worker’s ability to meet cognitive demands of the job, if requested

With an FCE, companies can determine if a candidate can meet the physical demands of a job requiring work at height. This information can help keep candidates safe by preventing exposure to a job they aren’t qualified for or by letting qualified candidates know what to expect on the jobsite. In addition to befitting the candidates, FCE’s help companies save money by avoiding having to pay costly workers compensation or injury-related costs. Obviously FCE’s don’t ensure that an accident will never happen while working at height, but FCE’s definitely lessen the chances of an accident by ensuring that the right person is on the job.

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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer |
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.