A function capacity assessment, or workplace physical ability assessment, is an expert consultation with an employee to determine their current physical capacity to perform physically active work duties after a period of long term sick leave (typically after a major operation or illness). The focus throughout the assessment is to determine their abilities and not their limitations, but equally to know what tasks they can perform safely, that is for their own safety of that of others. Once the assessment has determined their physical capabilities, the assessor then consults with the employer the most appropriate course of action in terms of phased return to work, allocation of tasks, reasonable adjustments or provisions to tasks taking into account specific limitations of motions. Returning someone back work too soon risks compromising their recovery and their health, and even cause new injuries.
One such assessment took place in a London office with attached high-value apartments. The housekeeper/cleaner had worked there for a number of years and was often employed to do a wide variety of roles, including shopping. Towards the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, Carol (not her real name), started to feel ill and this only worsened over a short period of time. Shortly afterwards diagnosed with bile duct and bowel cancer and very quickly operated on.
Only 6 months after her operation Carol wanted to return to work, it was felt too soon by all parties, but she was adamant. We were called in at this point as independent consultants to determine her physical capabilities and to make recommendations to adjust tasks, routines and work hours. Meeting with Carol at her place of work, we conducted an informal interview established her current medical condition, her current daily physical performance in terms of general work and life and the nature of her previous work roles (did her previous work roles contribute to her illness? in this case no it didn’t). It is vitally important not to make the interview and assessment appear to be an interrogation, we were there to help Carol as well as her employer re-establish that relationship they once had – once Carol is ready to return.
After we understood her background and current condition, we set about assessing her current physical ability by using a series of physical tests designed to replicate the full range of motions she would undertake in her work. In Carol’s case, we tested walking, climbing stairs, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, twisting, reaching and stretching at four different height levels; each one of these tasks was customised to her working environment, taking into account the housekeeping tasks she will be expected to do.
The results of the assessment indicated that Carol had good strength and flexibility in all motions except lifting heavy items greater than 5Kg. Her stamina and co-ordination was excellent considering her short recovery time. We recommended a phased return with 17 hours for week one, 26 hours for week two, with an informal reassessment after week 2; week 3 and 4, subject to the reassessment, would introduce more hours gradually to reach 35 hours by the end of week 4 and another reassessment. Coupled to this we recommended we reorganised all her work duties removing all heavy lifting tasks, reorganised her routine during reduced hours and planned the progression of tasks to be reintroduced at the key times during her phased return.