Why Pre-Hire Physical Abilities Testing is Critical for the Food Processing Industry


Prevalence of injuries in food processing

According to BLS statistics, food industry workers had 60 percent higher rate of occupational illness and injury than workers in non-food industries and a lost-time injury rate more than twice as high. A study done by National Employment Law Project found that the poultry industry as a whole has the 12th highest number of severe injuries of all industries reporting ranking above, auto, steel and other high-hazard industries 

Food technicians smiling at camera in a food processing plant
close up of poultry processing in food industry

Nature of the work. When we think of high-risk jobs, or those likely to cause injury, often we think of jobs with heavy lifting, pushing or pulling. But just because a particular task isn’t heavy, doesn’t make it low-risk. In a plant we observed recently, one job in particular had the employee performing the same activity over 40,000 repetitions per day. You read that correctly: 40,000 times per day!

Combine that with often awkward movements to get product into or out of processing equipment, and you have a recipe for disaster! And because many food processing facilities are production line oriented, a bottleneck at one position can negatively impact production for the whole facility.

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Effect on KPIs  

With the average strain/sprain or slip/trip/fall costing $40K in direct costs alone, the work comp costs go on and on as well.  And beyond the direct medical and indemnity costs, how do these injuries affect your organization's KPIs? Decreased yield and throughput, increased cycle time, and increased downtime all drag down overall production and ultimately decrease revenue. 

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Common Questions

How does pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing help?  Pre-hire PAT helps you select individuals who are capable of safely performing the physical requirements of the jobs and avoid hiring injuries waiting to happen.  You wouldn’t hire an accountant who didn’t have the proper training and credentials, would you?  So why would you hire someone to do physically demanding work, who doesn’t have the strength, stamina, flexibility or balance to do it?  It’s only a matter of time before these individuals experience a strain, sprain, repetitive injury or a fall.  

When you have a physically capable workforce, work related injuries and their associated costs decrease.  You have fewer lost and restricted duty days. Productivity and efficiency measures increase. Turnover decreases. And millions of dollars in injury costs are avoided.

How is testing developed and implemented?  Testing has to be job-specific in order to comply with ADA and EEOC.  So, it’s important to have an outside consultant analyze the physical requirements of the job. From that analysis, those same consultants can develop job-specific tests. You have a choice – your tests can be administered at your workplace or in a nearby clinic.  You make a conditional offer of employment.  The test is performed.  If the candidate passes the test, you proceed to hire.  If the candidate fails, the offer can be rescinded.  Alternatively, the test can be used to place candidates into a variety of jobs.  

What will the test look like? For most food processing jobs, the test will include elements that mimic the job. This likely consists of:

  • Materials handling: getting the bulk food product from farm to truck to facility often involves physically demanding tasks such as lifting, pushing, pulling, and carrying.  
  • Mobility: as discussed above, extreme repetition of reaching and handling activities are common in food production. In addition to those, the ability to squat, bend, twist, and climb stairs/steps are often requirements.
  • Balance: to maintain cleanliness and decrease the risk of contamination, many food production facilities are sprayed down constantly throughout the day. This creates a wet surface workers must walk through repeatedly, while stepping over or around hoses and climbing steps or stairs to reach their position on the production line. 

How do you know if the testing is working? One of the most common problems we see with testing programs is that once the program is established, no one monitors the outcomes.  Does the testing program lower injuries, costs, lost and restricted duty days?  Your company will never know unless you collaborate with your testing provider to do a before and after analysis.  Your testing provider should be able to walk you through a simple analysis to determine this.  

ErgoScience has the proof.  As an expert with testing in the food production industry, ErgoScience has data that proves what we do works.  Take a look the following example.  

In research published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, employees of a large food production plant who passed a pre-hire PAT had a 3 percent incidence of low back injuries as opposed to 33 percent in untested workers – a 90% improvement as compared to those not tested.

So why delay? Each day you wait, precious money is being flushed away, and it’s so easy to start saving. Contact ErgoScience today to see how we can partner with you to protect your team members and protect your bottom line.  


ErgoScience has a track record of success in the food processing industry.  ErgoScience tested 2,774 job applicants in two locations of a large meat processing company over a 2-yr period.  In the year prior to testing, work comp costs for hand, wrist and finger repetitive trauma alone, was nearly $700K/year.  In the two years following testing, the cost for these same injuries had reduced to $65K/year – a 90% decrease in costs!  Additionally, the number of lost time injuries decreased 63%!  The company’s ROI (after the costs of the testing program were deducted) was 6:1 – for every dollar spent, $6 were saved!

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All of our solutions are backed by years of reserach!

ErgoScience customers save an average of 65% on their workers’ comp expenses within just one year.

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