SSR 83-11 Exertionally Based Grid Rules Met
The Grids are rules set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations that assist adjudicators in making a disability decision. When a disability claimant’s medical impairments fit precisely 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 on the person’s vocational profile. A person’s vocational profile is defined as his or her age, level of education, and prior relevant work experience. Prior work experience is considered relevant if it has been performed within the past 15 years. If a disability claimant’s medical impairments do not fit precisely within one of the Grids, then the Grid rules do not direct a decision, but are rather used as a framework for decision making.
SSR 83-12 Solely Exertional Limitations
Social Security’s rules and regulations distinguish between exertional and non-exertional limitations. Exertional limitations are restrictions, due to a medical impairment, of a person’s ability to meet one or more of the seven primary strength demands of a job; i.e., sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Nonexertional limitations are a catchall to describe all other work limitations that are not exertional. These can be restrictions on the ability to meet the postural demands of a job, the mental demands of a job, the environmental demands of a job, etc. This SSR gives guidance for situations where a disability claimant’s medical impairments cause only exertional limitations. As mentioned above, if the exertional impairments match precisely with one of the Grid rules, then that rule will direct a decision of “disabled” or “not disabled.”
There are cases, however, when a person’s exertional limitations are somewhere between the Grid rules for medium, light, or sedentary work. There are also situations where a person’s solely exertional limitations are such that they would prevent doing the full range of even sedentary work. This SSR provides guidance on how to make a decision in such situations.
This SSR also mentions two special situations and how to deal with them in making an appropriate decision. The first special situation is where an individual needs to alternate between sitting and standing during a workday. The second special situation is where the individual has lost the use of an upper extremity, which is considered a rather definitive impairment.
SSR 83-14 Combination of Exertional and Nonexertional Limitations
This SSR provides guidance for decision making where an individual’s medical impairments result in a combination of both exertional and nonexertional limitations. There are specific examples of how certain nonexertional limitations can be expected to affect the occupational base in the categories of medium, light and sedentary work. Some highlights are:
1. Most unskilled sedentary work requires bilateral manual dexterity. A serious limitation on the ability to use one’s hands would significantly erode the sedentary occupational base. On the other hand, an allergy to ragweed pollen would not be expected to erode the sedentary occupational base much, if any, because most unskilled sedentary work is done indoors.
2. One big difference between light work and sedentary work is that light work requires standing and walking for up to six hours out of an eight hour work day. Light work typically does not require as much fine use of the hands and fingers as sedentary work. However, it does require significant use of the hands and arms for gross movements such as grasping, holding and turning objects. Light work also requires much more stooping (bending the body down and forward at the waist by bending the spine) than sedentary work. This is because light work requires frequently lifting and carrying of objects weighing 10 lbs. or less. Good visual fields are needed in light work so as to avoid ordinary hazards. Any serious limitation of these activities would be expected to significantly erode the light occupational base.
On the other hand, some examples of limitations that would not significantly erode the light occupational base are: inability to climb ropes, scaffolds or ladders; inability to crawl on one’s hands and knees; or inability to use the fingertips to sense the temperature or texture of objects. Certain environmental limitations, such as the need to avoid exposure to feathers, would not significantly erode the light occupational base.
3. Medium work, like light work, requires frequent standing and walking. As with light work, medium work also requires gross use of the arms and hands for grasping, holding and turning objects. It requires lifting up to 25 lbs. frequently. Thus, medium work requires both frequent stooping (bending the body downward and forward at the waist by bending the spine) and crouching (bending the body downward and forward by bending the spine and legs) in order to accomplish the lifting and carrying requirements. Thus, inability to frequently stoop or crouch would be expected to significantly erode the medium occupational base.
Medium work, unlike light work, may require one to ascend or descend ladders, ropes or scaffolding or to kneel or crawl on one’s hands and knees. However, restrictions on these activities would not significantly erode the medium occupational base. Likewise, the inability to sense temperature or texture of objects with one’s fingertips would not significantly erode the medium occupational base.
For situations in between the examples given above, the adjudicator should consider consulting a vocational resource, such as a vocational expert.
SSR 83-15 Solely Nonexertional Limitations
This SSR gives guidance on how to determine disability where a claimant has solely nonexertional limitations caused by a medical impairment. It points out that unskilled work typically involves working with objects rather than with data or people. Such work can provide significant vocational opportunities for people with mental limitations that prevent them from working with the public.
This SSR also gives examples of nonexertional limitations that might be expected to significantly affect the person’s ability to engage in the wide world of work, as well as example of limitations that would not have much effect on the ability to engage in work.
Some of those examples are:
Most work requires the ability to do some amount of stooping (bending the body forward and downward at the waist by bending the spine). Thus, inability to do any stooping at all would be expected to significantly narrow vocational opportunities.
Crawling on one’s hands and knees is a relatively rare activity in work environments, as is kneeling. Inability to do these activities would not be expected to significantly erode vocational opportunities.
Reaching, handling, fingering and feeling can be significant limitations. These are progressively finer ways to use the upper extremities to do work. The more limited a person is in meeting the strength demands of a job, the greater the significance will be of manipulative limitations.
Some environmental limitations can be quite limiting. A person who can tolerate very little dust or noise may have very limited vocational opportunities because very few work environments are entirely free of dust, contaminants, irritants, etc.