Development and scientific validation of the Ottawa Paramedic Physical Abilities Test

Research theme

Advancing functional capacity evaluation.

Workplace partner

  • Ottawa Paramedic Service, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 503

Rationale/problem

Most paramedic services require individuals to complete a physical employment test, as a form of functional capacity evaluation to ensure that they can demonstrate the physical abilities required to meet the demands of paramedic work. However, unlike other first responder professions including police and fire, presently there is no standardized, evidence-based, union and management endorsed physical employment standard for paramedics.

Research objective

This project aimed to develop and validate an evidence-based physical employment test for paramedics by following the best practices guideline based on Jamnik et al. 2010. 

Key findings

  1. A novel participatory task analysis method was employed to facilitate paramedics in documenting the physical demands of their work.
  2. A service-wide survey was used to identify frequent and/or high demanding paramedic tasks.
  3. A task simulation circuit was developed and refined challenging candidates to demonstrate their ability to perform frequenc and/or highly demanding tasks.
  4. Scientific evaluation confirmed high construct and content validity
  5. Test-rest reliability analysis indicated that participants could achieve a modest decrease (approximately 40 seconds faster) in their time to completion scores during the second attempt. 

Take home message

The results of this work led to the development of the Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT).  With funding support from the Ministry of Labour, we continue to refine and validate this test.  The OPPAT is currently being commercialised to permit widespread use as an evidence-based physical abilities test for the paramedic profession.

Knowledge translation

Peer-reviewed publications

Fischer SL, Sinden KE, & MacPhee RS. (2017). Identifying the critical physical demanding tasks of paramedic work: Towards the development of a physical employment standardApplied Ergonomics65, 233-239.

Morales L, McEachern BM, MacPhee RS, Fischer SL. (2016). Patient acuity as a determinant of paramedics' frequency of being exposed to physically demanding work activities. Applied Ergonomics, 56, 187-193.

Coffey B, MacPhee RS, Socha D, & Fischer SL. (2016). A physical demands description of paramedic work in CanadaInternational Journal of Industrial Ergonomics53, 355-362.

Technical reports

Sinden KE, MacPhee RS, Fischer SL, Ottawa Paramedic Service research team. The Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT): administrator and resource Manual. For the Ottawa Paramedic Service and CUPE Local 503. August 2015. 55 Pages.

Conference, symposia and meeting presentations

Sinden KE, MacPhee RS, Fischer SL, Ottawa Paramedic Service research team. The Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT): a review of process and development. Second International Conference on Physical Employment Standards. Canmore, Alberta. August 2015.

Fischer SL, Sinden KE, MacPhee RS, Moull K, Ottawa Paramedic Service research team. Between-day repeatability of the Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT). Second International Conference on Physical Employment Standards. Canmore, Alberta. August 2015.

Fischer SL, MacPhee RS. Physical employment testing for paramedics – the OPPAT. Research presentation for the Ministry of Labour EMS Section 21 Subcommittee meeting. Toronto, OntarioSeptember 28, 2015.

MacPhee RS, Fischer SL. The Ottawa Paramedic Physical Ability Test (OPPAT). Paper presented at the CUPE/CACO - EMS Workers Annual Provincial Meeting. Ottawa, Ontario. September 2015.

Project members: 
Last updated: August 16, 2017

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