Evaluating functional capacity requires a job analysis that involves a quantitative job description documenting the various physical exposures associated with job demands, such as strength, cardiovascular, and postural demands of the job. The applicant’s capabilities are compared with these essential job functions. If a capacity insufficiency in the applicant’s capabilities is noted relative to the job requirements, he or she may be not be selected for employment, may be placed in a conditioning, strengthening, or body mechanics program, or may be assigned to a less demanding job. For example, Sharkey (2000) reviewed the job demands and the development of a work capacity test for wildland firefighting. The first step was a job analysis of firefighting tasks. Using the Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection (Federal Register, 1979), the job analysis data were used in combination with past field studies to identify potential job-capacity selection tests. Laboratory studies were used to validate the selected tests, followed by a field evaluation. One of the tests, the pack test, was selected as a valid, job-related test to measure work capacity for these wildland firefighters.
This functional capacity evaluation approach may provide a framework to assess the risk of musculoskeletal disorders associated with exposure to such military tasks as basic training. If the physical requirements of basic training can be documented, the abilities of the incoming recruits could be compared with these training demands, and theoretically it should be possible to predict the percentage of recruits who would be expected to suffer task-related injuries. Given this quantifiable structure, it would also be possible to assess how the characteristics of the incoming recruiting class would need to change so that attrition due to musculoskeletal injury would meet a specific target. In this way it might be possible to optimize youth recruitment so that the maximum number of youths could be recruited with the minimum number of attritions.
All branches of the military require active-duty personnel to meet physical fitness standards, and all the branches provide for administration of physical fitness tests during and after basic training. However, currently none of the military branches systematically tests its recruits for low physical fitness prior to their shipping to basic training. This results in some recruits starting basic training with very low physical fitness, and, as mentioned earlier, these recruits are known to be at significantly elevated risk for injury and attrition. These high-risk recruits could be identified prior to their initiation of basic training if procedures