The Benefits of Pre-Work Screening Programs

Pre-work screening (PWS) programs (also known as physical abilities testing or PAT programs) are designed to measure and assess an employee’s physical capabilities to perform the essential job functions before beginning a new job assignment. This typically involves a functional assessment of the employee’s physical abilities that is based on the actual job demands. A report by the University of Illinois at Chicago has proven just how effective a pre-work screening program is at saving money. The study consisted of over 700 screens over a three year period and compared injury rates and cost per injury for those who were screened versus those who were not.  The purpose of the study was to gain an understanding of the true cost savings associated with pre-work screening. The report defined PWS as “a tool used to match Workers’ abilities to the physical demands of a particular job. Using a functional job description or actual job site analysis, pre-work screens can be specifically designed to assess the ability of an individual to safely work at the level required.”

The study concluded that there were long-term savings of $18 for every dollar spent and “…decrease in average cost per case (indicating possible reduction in severity of injury) was consistent with existing literature.” The savings were found by comparing the cost of workers’ compensation claims between the individuals who had, and those who had not been screened. Other factors such as lost time at work, re-training, and administrative costs were not taken into account, meaning that the potential savings of pre-work screening could be even higher.

In the occupational health industry, pre-placement medical screening, in addition to PWS, can often include the following components: medical history reviews, basic physical exams, medical surveillance exams such as Hazmat or Asbestos, drug & alcohol testing, and DOT medical exams. All of these exams and screenings are important tools that can be used by organizations to ensure that they are hiring the right person for the job – and that they will stay on the job safely. Managing a decentralized workforce and staying on top of every worker’s various screening needs and exam requirements can be a daunting task. Partnering with an occupational health provider that understands the complexities of these exams including billing, scheduling, maintaining clinic networks, ADA compliance, and applying consistent medical clearance criteria, can unlock the savings that were documented by the University of Illinois at Chicago study.

The benefits of a pre-work screening program are well-documented, and should be considered when creating or looking to improve an occupational health and safety program. A “centralized” PWS program offers consistency and quality and provides the necessary tools to ensure that employees are well matched to the essential functions of their jobs.