Physical Demands Analysis (PDA): Why this is Crucial

Look at your company job descriptions.  Once you pull it up, scroll all the way to the bottom.  Most often, this is the section is where you find a brief descriptor about “physical demands.”  Usually, this section has a blanket statement that says something like “must be able to lift up to 50 pounds.”  Occasionally, this section may say something like “must be able to stand, walk, sit, reach, stoop, climb and lift up to 50 pounds.”  The second statement described is usually the most detailed that any generic job description will get.  Now I want you to consider this: do these statements really tell you anything?

The answer is NO.  But why does it matter?

Lets first talk about why it doesn’t really tell you anything. These are the questions I immediately ask myself when I read the physical demands sections of the examples (I will limit this to 20 questions).

  1. What is the frequency with which these activities are being performed?  Do they occur one time per hour or 100 times per hour?
  2. Are they standing for prolonged periods?
  3. Are they standing in a static position?
  4. How often/far does the position require someone to walk?
  5. Are they sitting for prolonged periods? 
  6. What type of seated posture is sustained?
  7. To what height is the position required to reach? 
  8. Is reaching sustained for long periods?
  9. To what degree of trunk flexion is the position required to stoop?
  10. Is stooping sustained for long periods?
  11. Are they climbing ladders or stairs? or both? 
  12. What is the height/depth of stairs and/or what is the rung height of the ladders?
  13. How many step/rungs is the position required to climb consecutively?
  14. What is the lifting frequency?
  15. To what height are is the position required to lift?
  16. Do the materials that are lifted allow for power gripping or are they difficult to grip/grasp?
  17. Are the materials lifted carried for extended distances?
  18. What about squatting, kneeling, crawling, trunk rotation, pushing/pulling, postural balancing, gripping/grasping/pinching? Those weren’t even mentioned.
  19. Is the work considered sedentary, light, medium, heavy or very heavy?
  20. What type of PPE is required while performing these tasks?

You can see why the standard “job description” is inadequate when describing the physical demands of a position.  Defining the physical demands associated with essential job functions is essential for several reasons:

  1. It gives job candidates an accurate description of the physical demands required of the position.
    1. How many times have you hired someone only to see them quit in a few days (or hours) because the job was too physical?
  2. It raises awareness of the actual physical requirements of the position.  Often, management is unaware of just how physical a job may be.  Heightened awareness allows for optimal personnel placement (you wouldn’t want a kicker playing offensive line).
  3. In the event of a work-related injury, it provides the physician with an accurate picture of what the physical requirements of the position are.
    1. How many times have you had an employee be released by a physician and come to back to work when you knew they weren’t ready? 
    1. Often, the physician simply asks the employee if they feel that they are ready to come back and signs off.  Without a validated PDA, the physician usually “takes their word for it.”
  4. If you are performing any sort of post-offer employment testing, these tests must be based off a validated PDA.  If not, your company is not in compliance with EEOC or ADA regulations.
  5. The EEOC and ADA requires that PDAs are updated and validated every 3-5 years.  We recommend our customers to do update/validate every three years.

Having accurate PDAs for job positions could be a game changer for the health and safety of your company.  It will ensure proper placement of healthy employees and those returning to work from injury.  Additionally, management can rest assured that the company is compliance with ADA and EEOC regulations, especially if post-offer employment testing is occurring. Next week, we will be discussing the elements of a post-offer employment test (referred to as a physical demands test by us), the advantages of these tests and EEOC and ADA compliance.

If I can be of any assistance to you or if you have any questions, please email me or connect with me by your favorite platform below.  I would love to start a conversation!





Kevin is the Executive Director of HealthWorks Kinesiology and is a Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator (CIEE), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and a Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT).  Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Health Promotion from Louisiana Tech University. 

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