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Scientific Method of Analyzing Occupations and Worker Trait Factor Analysis After a Worker Experiences an Injury

Scientific Method of Analyzing Occupations and Worker Trait Factor Analysis After a Worker Experiences an Injury

When a worker experiences an accident that results in an injury, questions about their work loss/ wage capacity are a main concern. Understanding the capabilities of an individual requires a thorough vocational evaluation of their work history, medical history, physical capacities, aptitudes, educational development, environmental tolerances, and personal concerns. As a full evaluation is complicated, the necessity for applying a scientific method while evaluating worker traits provides the trier-of-fact a reliable methodology result. This method is peer-reviewed and has a standard error of estimate, error rate, and standards.  

This article explains a 7-step process Mr. Smolarski uses for carrying out a detailed evaluation that addresses key questions like transferable skills, wage loss/ wage capacity, access to employment, re-training, and other important vocational variables.

Determine Transferable Skills

When a worker experiences an injury, one of the first questions that needs to be answered is about transferable skills. This concern is crucial to both the plaintiff and the defense attorneys and the judicial system, who want to know if the individual can still work in competitive work.

First, an offset may be found. For example, if a bricklayer can no longer lift bricks due to an injury (e.g. back injury), the vocational evaluator needs to assess what kind of work the injured worker can still perform. It is possible that the injured worker could find sedentary or light work employment. However, work that would be within their capabilities before the injury may no longer be applicable depending on the type and severity of the injury.

When looking at potential employment opportunities, there are options like sedentary work, sit-stand work, or no completive work. If an injury leaves someone incapable of standing (or sitting) for long periods, sedentary/ light work could be the best alternative. However, the injury may still impact the transferable skills potential of someone despite having some competencies, that the U.S. Department of Labor uses to match a worker to a competitive occupation.

The worker’s interest, motivation, personality, temperaments, and values, are also variables that play into a worker’s puzzle of variables that the vocational evaluator must consider when developing a vocational plan.    

Ultimately, determining transferable skills requires understanding the injured party’s previous education and work experience along with the new variable of their injury and its impact on his/ her worker traits.

Determine Access to Employment

Beyond skills and aptitude, the job market must also be evaluated to give a fair assessment of what opportunities exist. Following an injury, if the individual is still capable of working but at a reduced ability, the vocational evaluation will provide objective findings, through objective testing and subjective instruments.  The worker’s potential employment opportunities can then be determined.

Following assessments of transferrable skills, an evaluation of employment opportunities assists in illuminating the real-world impact of an injured worker’s disability. The range of available employment opportunities is considered. For instance, if the individual was able to access around 350 jobs in the geographical area before the injury but now only has access to 10 occupations, it represents a change in access to employment.

Even if their skills were transferable to other work, the loss of access to employment can play a key role when determining something like wage loss/ wage capacity damages or a life care plan. Alternatively, if opportunities remain like their pre-injury status, it could indicate that the injury may not be as impactful on their earning potential.

The third level of evaluation may include a pre-injury and post-injury assessment to understand how the employer was accommodating the worker before the accident occurred.

Finally, a fourth level of evaluation consolidates all this information to determine current employment options.

How to Determine if a Worker Is Trainable After a Disabling Injury

One of the critical considerations is whether the individual needs to acquire new skills to be employable after the injury. The question is, can they go back to school or a training program to adapt to a new work environment based on their current physical capabilities?

Many considerations are at play in this regard. For instance:

  • What level of education did they have before the injury?
  • What type of training would be required to make them comparably employable?
  • What type of training are they capable of completing with their injury?
  • Is the injured individual able to physically keep up with necessary training?
  • Does the pain associated with the injury preclude the individual from successfully completing training or education, by way of reducing their ability to focus, reason, or have the physical capacities?

What Traits Impact an Individual When Severe Pain is Experienced

Severe pain can be life-changing beyond the obvious pain itself, affecting not only physical but also cognitive abilities. While many may think of pain as a purely physical concern, chronic pain has a debilitating effect on cognition.

High levels of pain can impact reasoning and skill levels, which could potentially compromise employment opportunities. The ability to focus on a task, especially for long periods, is reduced for those with chronic pain. Likewise, pain can make it more challenging to think and reason for jobs that require problem-solving. Tasks that may seem simple, like sorting or transporting objects, can be made more challenging when chronic pain is distracting the individual from following guidelines or training properly.

Of course, factors like dexterity and strength may be affected directly or indirectly by the pain and the injury. The overt impact of pain on an injured person’s ability to perform is always a consideration. Additionally, fatigue and endurance may come on faster for someone with severe pain, which can reduce their dexterity or strength even more than the physical limitations imposed by the injury itself.

What Tool Is Best Utilized to Determine Functional Capacities

Determining functional capacities is integral to the vocational assessment. Tools that measure upper extremities—finger dexterity, manual dexterity, motor coordination, lifting capacity, at full range of motion—are used. These variables help determine, categorize, and clearly explain the physical limitations and competitive strengths of the individual.

The most important part of this section of the evaluation includes a deep understanding of the specifics of someone’s functional capacity related to vocational capacities that are important when determining wage loss/ wage capacity. The vocational evaluator needs to determine if the individual can work at a sustained and competitive rate (full range of motion) to complete a job at the appropriate level of competency.

Perhaps the individual can work at a sustainable rate but at low competency (due to the injury, secondary pain, loss of range of motion, etc.) This could prevent them from maintaining gainful employment or they may function well and be able to work at a sustained rate, competitive rate, and have competitive competencies.

Alternatively, physical work may have been their only aptitude because their education was limited. If this is the case, how much physical aptitude was lost, and does it cripple their potential capacity for future work?

One such system used in determining functional capacity is the McCroskey Vocational Quotient System (MVQS). This “go-to” tool is a comprehensive Job-Person matching system that allows a vocational expert to analyze transferrable skills, evaluate worker traits according to the Department of Labor Worker Traits, do pre/post-employment access analysis, and wage loss/ wage capacity using vocational quotients. This analysis assists the vocational evaluator in determining work loss/ work capacity dollars and is conducted after many hours of objective vocational testing.

It is essential to understand if the individual can work at a sustainable rate and meet the competency levels required for a given job. With tools like MVQS, the process of evaluating an individual is strict and quantifiable, making it easier to understand the reality of the injured worker’s disability.

When Should a Vocational Evaluator Collaborate with a Physiatrist or a Neuropsychologist and Other Medical Disciplines

Medical input is crucial in confirming the evaluator’s findings. Doctors trained in physical medicine (physiatrists) and neuropsychologists have the necessary expertise to assess an individual’s functional capacity for work.

Collaborating with these professionals ensures that the evaluation is medically substantiated. Beacon Rehab regularly works with physiatrists as they are the only type of doctor with the expertise needed to properly evaluate and draw conclusions on the topic of functional capacity evaluation findings by a vocational evaluator. 

The physiatrist consultation provides an organic medical foundation of an individual’s physical capacities and collaborates with the vocational evaluator’s functional capacity evaluation and environmental tolerance findings with all body systems.

The neuropsychologist is an extremely important professional to the vocational evaluator [with brain injury cases] to obtain feedback and collaborate on executive functioning, memory, cognitive, behavioral concerns, and treatment.

The vocational evaluator may also collaborate with other rehabilitation professionals: physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, prosthetist, and other medical professional disciplines depending upon the medical diagnosis.

Why Is It Important to Test All Aptitudes and Achievement Levels

A functional capacity evaluation and vocational testing provide results of a worker’s vocational prognosis. This means everything from their pre-injury capabilities to post-injury, their education, retraining, and the likelihood of success in future employment.

An exhaustive test of all aptitudes and achievement levels gives objective data that can assess a person’s ability to work at a sustained and competitive rate. Even if someone can work, if they cannot work at a competitive rate compared to other job candidates, they will likely not maintain employment long-term. Just being capable of performing a task isn’t enough – it needs to be sustainable through a whole workday, for weeks and months, to keep them comparable to other potential job seekers or fellow employees.

Moreover, it can reveal if they pose a direct threat in the workplace due to their limitations. This is important in the context of ADA compliance and reasonable accommodation by the employer. If an injury makes it more likely that they may hurt themselves or others on the job site, directly or indirectly, their ability to work must be called into question.   For instance, an individual with compromised focus or reasoning could make a mistake on the job that results in injury or death to themselves or others. This could take place even in “low risk” work environments depending on the situation. On the other hand, the worker may work well within the standards of the ADA and not be a direct threat to anyone or be an undue hardship to the employer.

For these types of cases, a functional capacity evaluation and vocational assessment may lead to the need for a life care plan. Mr. Smolarski at Beacon Rehab is one of the foremost experts in the United States on life care plans and has experience working across the globe in this field.


People not only need to work but they also need to do so competitively and sustainably. A scientific method like the one outlined can help in quantifying the damage in monetary terms and offer a pathway to rehabilitate the worker.

Specialized vocational evaluators such as me, Ron Smolarski, play a crucial role in bringing together the various elements—transferable skills analysis, access to employment, education development testing,  aptitude testing, medical consultations, and functional capacity evaluations—into a coherent whole. This robust methodology is a multi-day process that offers an evidence-based approach to the very complex issue of employment capability after a bodily or psychological injury.

The outcome is a nuanced understanding of what a person can still do in terms of wage loss/ wage capacity, despite their limitations. In addition to helping establish a real-world dollar figure [future value/ present value] for damages for a plaintiff or defense, it also opens the door to possible retraining, reasonable accommodation, and a return to a meaningful quality of life.