Breakout 21
  • Thursday 10:45am

    Physical Employment Standards: Current Issues and Challenges

    Stew Petersen

    Stew Petersen

    I am a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta. Prior to moving to Edmonton in 1984, I spent five years at the University of Victoria as an instructor (Human Physiology) and coach (rugby).

    My research program addresses problems in thermal and cardiopulmonary physiology in physically demanding occupations including structural and wildland firefighting, military diving and search and rescue. For example, we have published numerous papers on the effects of the self-contained breathing apparatus on pulmonary and cardiovascular responses to exercise. The current focus in the lab is on cardiopulmonary consequences of heavy thoracic load carriage (backpacks) during prolonged exercise.

    Much of the work we do in our lab studying the physiology of load carriage, respirators and protective clothing informs the field of physical employment standards. I was the chief organizer of the Second International Conference on Physical Employment Standards, held in Canmore in August, 2015.
    Vern Elliott

    Vern Elliott

    Vern Elliott is a Deputy Fire Chief of Human Resources and Logistics at Strathcona County Emergency Services in Sherwood Park, Alberta. Prior to his promotion in 2008, he was a paramedic in Jasper National Park and then a firefighter/paramedic in Fort McMurray and Strathcona County.

    Vern's industrial, wildland and municipal experience have provided him the opportunity to gain a broad working knowledge of various types of incidents. In fact, Vern has acted in a command role for several large regional incidents including the Strathcona County wildfires in 2009, Slave Lake wildfire in 2011 and most recently, the Fort McMurray wildfires of 2016.
    Vern has an applied degree in business, completed FEMA training in AHIMT for the Operations Section Chief and Incident Commander, and is a certified Executive Coach.

    Session Description

    The presentation will first describe an experience where Strathcona County Emergency Services (SCES) acknowledged a variation within the department's physical employment standards (PES) between Full Time and Part Time Firefighters. In consultation with their provider for Full Time Firefighter assessments (University of Alberta Work Physiology Lab), SCES altered their testing regime for Part Time Firefighters to provide consistency with the two assessments.
    The second part of the presentation will focus on challenges and solutions in the field of Physical Employment Standards specific to the fire service. The session will include time for discussion of these issues and recommendations for improving practice in this challenging field.
    In Canada, the term bona fide occupational requirement is defined as a condition of employment imposed in the belief that it is necessary for safe, efficient, and reliable work performance, and that such conditions have been objectively established. Physical employment standards for emergency responders (or "fitness for duty") fall into this classification. Many employees, particularly in public safety occupations like firefighting, are required to operate in difficult conditions, characterized by high work intensities coupled with extreme environmental challenges. It is imperative that employers hire a highly capable and injury-resistant work force. Employers of such workers must consider issues concerning their duty of care while balancing non-discriminatory work practices.
    Despite the long history of physical employment standards, consensus on best practice in areas such as identifying tasks, quantifying physical demands, developing tests and setting standards is limited. Practices vary regionally, nationally and internationally. One reason why there is limited agreement on best practice in the field of physical employment standards (PES) may well stem from the complex intersection between disciplinary interests such as human resources, labor law, human rights, occupational safety, occupational medicine and work physiology.
    This presentation will build on lessons from recent scientific and professional focus on physical employment standards (PES), specifically the Second International Conference on Physical Employment Standards, held in Canmore, Alberta in August 2015. The conference brought together scientists and practitioners from diverse disciplines to address critical questions in the domain of physical employment standards. The theme of the conference was "Best Practice in PES: An International Perspective". All the sessions, from the keynote addresses to the plenary presentations to the knowledge translation breakout groups emphasized the transition from "current practice to best practice".
    Our presentation will address some major themes in improving science and professional practice in this important aspect of safety and operational effectiveness. We will present information designed to first, increase awareness of the major issues and, secondly, to guide organizations towards making better decisions in this potentially volatile and litigious domain. Perspectives will be drawn from the speakers' long experience in fire department leadership (the "consumer"), scientific research ("development"), and provider of testing services ("delivery").