An Investigation into Training, Evaluation, and Application of the Physical Demands Description to Document Paramedic Work
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Every job requires a worker to complete a subset of physical demands. These physical demands are classified into different elements (e.g., lifting, pushing, pulling), each with requisite measurement characteristics (e.g., frequency, duration, weight). Understanding the physical demands is important when making job-related decisions such as developing job descriptions, adjudicating injury claims, and effectively facilitating return-to-work scenarios. As these decisions are made by professionals both internal to a workplace (e.g., managers, human resources, engineers) and external (e.g., physicians, insurance providers); physical demands information must be objective, easily understandable, and accurate. A Physical Demands Description (PDD) is the document that summarizes all physical demands of a job, as characterized following periods of job observation interspersed with physical demands measurements. There were two main purposes of this research, 1) to study the effectiveness of PDD training on trainee’s ability to accurately identify and measure physical demand elements, and 2) to characterize the physical demands of paramedic work, by training paramedics to identify physical demand elements. First, PDD training was delivered to ten university students who then applied their training to perform condensed PDDs using three different job simulation examples. Participants accurately identified physical demand elements with a success rate of 80%, but failed to accurately measure aspects of those elements within a 10% margin of error relative to the criterion established by a team of subject matter experts. Implementing these findings, a participatory approach was taken to document the physical demands of paramedics by training paramedics to identify (not measure) the physical demands of their colleagues. Fourteen paramedics from seven services across Canada received PDD training to identify the physical demands of their work. They documented demands during two separate full-shift ride-outs, acting as an observer. The most physically demanding aspects of paramedic work, as identified by paramedics, were stretcher loading and unloading (25.6% of respondents), carrying equipment (19.5%), and pushing and pulling the stretcher (13.4%). When considering differences in task frequency between service population areas, high-populated services loaded and unloaded an empty stretcher and handled medication bags more frequently than low-populated services. These data contribute to the Canadian paramedic community by characterizing the work of paramedics, useful in developing a physical abilities pre-hire test to ensure candidates match the physical demands of the occupation.