What are “cognitive demands” and why do we include them in our reports?

A PCDA is a physical and cognitive demands analysis. It’s a very detailed description of all of the work that an employee does regularly, including pushing/pulling/lifting/gripping/pinching forces, photos, hand height, and reaches.

A PCDA allows a supervisor or return-to-work coordinator to compare an employee’s functional abilities with the demands of any job. It also allows a health care provider to quickly understand the job that an employee has been offered for return-to-work, or a job that may have contributed to an injury. And a PCDA may also be used by the WSIB or insurance company, in managing a claim.

We’ve been doing physical demands analyses for decades, but within the past 5 years or so, we’ve started including cognitive demands as well, because employers have recently become more interested in how jobs can accommodate workers who have cognitive limitations, as well as physical limitations.

Here’s an example of how this might work. Bruce, an assembly department forklift operator, slips and falls in the parking lot and sustains a back injury, and also a mild concussion. He goes home and attends to his back injury, and the next day he visits his family doctor, who determines that he needs to be off work for a few days. The doctor fills out a functional abilities form that indicates that Bruce can return to work on Wednesday, with these limitations:

  • No lifting more than 5 kg floor to waist, and waist to shoulder
  • No repetitive back bending
  • Other: No exposure to bright light, limited ability to multitask.

The HR Manager, Brenda, receives these limitations and compares them with the PCDA:

  • The assembly forklift operator loads heavy rolls of shrink wrap, but this is a non-essential duty, which could be re-assigned.
  • The job requires some bending to pick up cardboard sheets, but the bending is not repetitive.
  • The bright ceiling lights in the warehouse are within the employee’s field of view when retrieving and placing product at high levels.
  • The job requires considerable multi-tasking to monitor and prioritize which products to retrieve from production first.

The lighting and multi-tasking would be difficult to modify, so Brenda expands her search for a suitable job. She knows that Bruce is trained on other jobs in his department, so she considers the receiver job in the back warehouse. Brenda uses the PCDA to learn that this job does not involve lifting or repetitive back bending. The job is performed in consistent, lower-level lighting, and does not require multi-tasking. This job appears to be a better fit, so Brenda proposes to the Supervisor that Bruce could return to the back warehouse. The supervisor agrees, and they discuss the plan with Bruce before he returns to work.

More and more, employers are encouraged to consider the cognitive abilities of employees, just as they have considered physical capabilities in the past. During periods of temporary impairment, a PCDA can be a useful communication tool, to help everyone to better understand what employees are being asked to do.

Need to learn how to complete Physical and Cognitive Demands Analyses for your workplace? Join us at our September 14-15 PCDA workshop in Cambridge. Register here.

Need a quote for us to complete your PCDAs for you? Contact carrie@taylordergo.com.

Want to include PCDAs with your job hazard analyses? Contact carrie@taylordergo.com to inquire about our pilot program.

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