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Functional Assessments and Occupational Health

In some cases it may be necessary for an occupational health clinician to advise that an employer undertakes a functional assessment for an employee following their occupational health consultation. The aim of this is to ensure that they are physically and practically able to undertake specific aspects of their role in the workplace.

A functional assessment is a means of documenting that an individual, on a specific date, and at a specified time was observed undertaking the required skill.

The functional assessment, depending upon what it entails for the specific case, may need to take place in a simulated environment and may require that the individual be observed completing the task by a line manager and a member of the health and safety team, where this exists.


Physical and Practical Aspects

The functional assessment may consider an individual’s physical ability for example, to stand for a defined period, their physical strength (grip strength etc. or ability to lift a required load from one location to another), their balance, cardiovascular fitness, manual dexterity, ability to undertake low level work, kneel, squat, or stand up after undertaking low level work or even get out of the way of potential danger quickly in an emergency.

It may require the individual to demonstrate whether they have adequate hearing to hear required alarms or colour vision to complete a task or that they can operate the required equipment or machinery.

Or it may also consider an individual’s memory and cognitive ability to navigate required computer software, use existing DSE provisions, undertake calculations, accurately document interactions with customers or clients etc. or their ability to follow written or verbal instructions, where this may have been affected by underlying health issues.


The following are examples of some workplace functional assessments.

  • To ensure that an employee can hear reversing sounders on a vehicle (HGV or FLT), fire alarms, or evacuation sounders etc.

  • To ascertain whether an individual can climb in and out of their vehicle safely in all potential scenarios i.e. on uneven ground, steep slopes.

  • To determine whether an individual can undertake any specific aspect of their role i.e. entering and exiting a confined space.

  • To ensure that they can accurately differentiate between the colours of where the ability to differentiate between colours is an essential component of their role i.e. where they are colour blind.

  • To ensure that an employee can operate machinery as required including any required day to day maintenance or ongoing tasks as part of the role i.e. placing parts to be machined into a lathe etc.


Typically, functional assessments are individualised, however in some cases employers may have templates to manage the more regularly requested functional assessments for example in cases of Cat 3 and cat 4 hearing loss where it is necessary to determine the ability of an employee to hear necessary reversing sounders and fire alarms etc.

Once a functional assessment has been undertaken the document should be dated and signed by all parties. It may be necessary for employers to repeat the functional assessment periodically especially where individuals have long-term or permanent health issues which may continue to impact upon an individual’s ability to work.

If you would like to find out more about functional assessments, you can contact us here or call us on 01792 321010`

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