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Harley-Davidson test quiets disability claims

Harley-Davidson test quiets disability claims

PORTLAND, Ore.—Harley-Davidson Motor Co. relies on a functional assessment job-matching test to reduce workers compensation and disability claims among new hires.

The functional assessment system also has contributed to key improvements in the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer's return-to-work program for occupational and nonoccupational claims, Caroline O'Connell, Harley-Davidson's occupational health and safety lead, said during a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

Harley-Davidson's system relies on several components, including post-offer employment testing, or POET, to evaluate the capabilities of prospective employees to make certain they are physically able to safely meet the demands of a job.

Hanover, Md.-based BTE Technologies Inc. provides the electronic functional assessment testing system and accompanying software.

BTE technicians also perform physical demand analyses, evaluating Harley-Davidson's worksites. That helps assure BTE's electronic testing system objectively measures specific job duties performed at the motorcycle company's facilities.

The POET system evaluates attributes such as range of motion, dexterity, grip strength, lifting ability and tolerance of certain positions. Employees are measured by pushing against a column, lifting weights and other efforts matched to specific job requirements that are recorded electronically .

Harley-Davidson turned to BTE after evaluating its workers comp, short-term disability and Family and Medical Leave Act claims and health care costs. It was looking to learn, among other things, how it could improve its hiring practices and reduce injuries, said Susanne Gartner, manager of corporate health services for Harley-Davidson, and another member of the DMEC panel at the July 19-22 conference in Portland, Ore. (see related box).

In 2008, the company tested 197 job candidates, 78% of which passed. Harley-Davidson estimates it has saved nearly $260,000 in workers comp costs from claims it otherwise would have experienced from untested new hires. That does not include other savings, such as disability claims or return-to-work efforts, Ms. O'Connell said.

Only one workers comp claim, with a cost of $879, resulted from the employees who passed initial testing last year.

One employee that failed the entry POET exam revealed later that he had undergone elbow surgery three months earlier, Ms. Gartner said.

“This is not someone we felt could manage the work environment,” Ms. Gartner said. “Therefore, by doing our POET testing, we were able to keep the employee from coming in and filing another workers comp claim or getting injured. We don't want to put someone in a position where they are going to get injured.”

The BTE system also plays a role in returning injured employees to work by helping company physical therapists track and evaluate them to assure they have recovered sufficiently for certain roles.

“In the past, our (return-to-work) process was very, very cumbersome,” Ms. O'Connell said. It could take a month to wade through jobs that might be satisfactory for workers whose doctors released them for duty with certain restrictions.

With physical demands required by various jobs now computerized in the BTE system, employees are matched immediately with jobs, Ms. O'Connell said.

Because the software system is Web-based, Harley-Davidson's workers comp and disability insurers, its third-party administrator and doctors all can use it to help make return-to-work determinations.

The testing system also allows Harley-Davidson to determine whether physical therapy received by injured workers is paying off. If not, treatment modifications can be made.

“You don't want to keep doing therapy on people if it is not helping,” Ms. O'Connell said.

Because POET testing provides a base-line reading of a worker's physical abilities, it can also help rate future job-related disability claimants for compensation purposes, she said.

Because the testing is objective and electronically consistent for similar jobs at all Harley-Davison facilities, it is “defensible” against legal claims, Connie Vaughn-Miller, vp of business development for BTE, told conference attendees.