Combination of Exertional and Nonexertional Impairments
One of the things I enjoy about representing individuals in disability cases is learning about the broad world of work that exists in our country. Sometimes it seems as if I get so focused on my little corner of the world that I forget just how many different types of work are out there in our free-market economy. Each client I represent comes from a unique work and educational background.
I have represented individuals from such diverse employment backgrounds as steel worker, delivery driver, long-haul truck driver, welder, construction worker, baker, cake decorator, cashier, sous chef, food service worker, dog groomer, painter, house cleaner, banquet server, auto mechanic, emissions and safety inspector, diesel mechanic, customer service representative, office worker, office cleaner, janitor and just about everything in between.
The social security administration uses the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) extensively in determining an individual’s capability to adjust to other work. The DOT is published by the United States Department of Labor. A companion volume to the DOT is the Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (SCO).
In the SCO, occupations are classified as very heavy, heavy, medium, light, and sedentary depending upon their primary strength requirements. These primary strength requirements are defined in terms of three work positions (sitting, standing, and walking) and four worker movements of objects (lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling). These primary strength requirements are also referred to as the exertional requirements of a job.
In broad terms, “very heavy” work is work that requires lifting more than 100 lbs. at a time with frequent (between 1/3 and 2/3 of the workday) lifting and carrying objects weighing 50 lbs. or more. “Heavy” work is work that requires lifting no more than 100 lbs. at a time with frequent lifting and carrying of objects weighting up to 50 lbs. “Medium” work is work that requires lifting no more than 50 lbs. at a time and frequent lifting and carrying objects weighing up to 25 lbs. “Light” work is work that requires lifting up to 20 lbs. at a time and objects weighing up to 10 lbs. frequently. Light work also typically requires standing and walking for up to six hours out of an eight hour work day, or sitting most of the time with some pushing or pulling of foot or leg controls. “Sedentary” work is work that requires lifting no more than 10 lbs. at a time, with frequent lifting of small objects such as ledgers, docket files, and small tools. It also requires sitting for up to six hours out of an eight hour work day.
These primary strength requires are progressive, meaning that a person who is considered physically capable of performing a higher strength level job is also considered capable of performing work in all lower strength levels.
All other work requirements that are not classified as exertional fall under the category of “nonexertional.” These nonexertional requirements are things such as:
Social Security’s rules and regulations take “administrative notice” of about 2,500 unskilled medium, light, and sedentary occupations that exist in the national economy. “Administrative notice” means that Social Security has already determined that approximately this number of such occupations exist nationwide, and hence there is no need to determine this issue in each individual case.
Within those 2,500 or so administratively noticed occupations, there are approximately 1,600 unskilled light and sedentary occupations and about 200 unskilled sedentary occupations.
When a person’s exertional impairments fit within one of the Grid Rules for medium, light, or sedentary work, then that particular Grid Rule will direct a decision of “disabled” or “not disabled”, based upon the person’s vocational profile (age, education, and work experience).
For Social Security’s “Grid Rules”, see https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-app-p02.htm (visited 04/27/15).
However, where a person has additional nonexertional impairments, then the adjudicator must consider to what extent, if any, those additional impairments would erode the person’s exertional occupational base.
Some nonexertional limitations would have very little, if any, impact upon the occupational base. In such a case, the decision would be the same as what the appropriate Grid rule would otherwise direct.
Other limitations would have a significant impact on the occupational base. To determine the extent of the erosion of the occupational based caused by nonexertional limitations, the adjudicator must often use the services of a Vocational Expert.
We see Vocational Experts (VEs) at almost every social security disability hearing. They are a very important part of the adjudication process.
Social Security Ruling 83-14 gives examples of nonexertional limitations and how they interact with sedentary, light and medium categories of work as follows:
1. Sedentary work combined with nonexertional impairments.
Most unskilled sedentary work required bilateral manual dexterity, or in other words, use of the hands and fingers. A loss of the use of dexterity of the hands and finger for someone who is limited to sedentary work would significantly erode the sedentary occupational base. In some cases this would result in an appropriate finding of “disabled” without need to consult a vocational resource.
On the other hand, a person’s allergy to ragweed pollen would not significantly erode the sedentary occupational base. This is because most unskilled sedentary jobs are performed indoors.
For more difficult cases, the adjudicator would need to consult a vocational resource.
2. Light work combined with nonexertional impairments.
The major difference between light and sedentary work is that light work typically requires being on one’s feet by standing or walking the majority of the work day. Another difference is that light work typically requires frequent lifting and carrying of objects weighing up to 10 lbs. This means that light work typically requires occasional (up to 1/3 of the workday) stooping, or bending the body downward and forward at the waist by bending the spine. Such stooping is not typically required in sedentary jobs. However, unlike sedentary work, light work does not require as much fine use of the hands and fingers. Rather, light work typically requires gross use of the hands to grasp, hold, and turn objects. Any limitation of these functional abilities requires a careful assessment of its impact on the remaining occupational base of a person who is otherwise functionally capable of light work.
A visual impairment resulting in a constriction of visual fields (not necessarily of visual acuity) may significantly erode the light occupational base. This is because a person with restricted visual fields may be a hazard to self and others – such as by tripping over boxes while walking, or inability to detect other people approaching, or difficulty walking up and down stairs.
Some examples of nonexertional impairments that would have little or no impact on the light occupational base are inability to ascend or descend scaffolding, poles or ropes; inability to crawl on hands and knees; or inability to use the finger tips to sense the temperature or texture of an object. Certain environmental restrictions, such as the need to avoid exposure to feathers, would also not have much impact on the ability to do the full range of light work.
For cases in between these examples, the adjudicator will need to consult a vocational resource to assist in determining the degree of erosion of the remaining occupational base.
3. Medium work with nonexertional impairments
As with light work, medium work requires being on one’s feet most of the work day. Also as with light work, medium work typically requires gross use of the hands to grasp, hold and turn objects. It does not require much use of the fingers for fine movements of small objects.
Because medium work requires frequent lifting and carrying objects weighing up to 25 lbs., it also requires frequent stooping and frequent crouching in order to move objects from one level to another or to move objects near the foot level. Thus an inability to frequently stoop or crouch would significantly erode the medium occupational base.
With medium work, there is more likelihood than with light work, of the need to ascend or descend ladders, ropes or scaffolding, or to kneel or crawl. However, limitations of these activities would typically not have much effect on the occupational base.
As with light work, medium work typically would not require sensing temperature or texture of objects with the fingertips. The need to avoid environments that are not typically found in medium work would not significantly affect the occupational base.
For limitations in between these examples, an adjudicator will typically consult a vocational resource.
Whenever a decision of “not disabled” is made, the determination or decision must include citations of examples of occupations/jobs the person can do functionally and vocationally and the instance of such jobs in the region in which the individual resides or in several regions of the country.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.
When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.