Sunday, December 11, 2016

Vocational Experts - You Can't Be Serious

Sometimes I just want to ask -- are you serious?  This comes from the files of the absolutely ridiculous.

ALJ asks and finds that the claimant has a mental impairment that leaves a youthful claimant with a residual functional capacity to engage in work activity that involves occasional decision-making.  The kind of RFC is relatively common in Social Security decisions.  Depending on the presence of other limitations, this kind of limitation can prove fatal to the ability to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. 

The vocational expert in this case identified two occupations that make no sense.  The vocational expert stated that the claimant could perform the occupation of a film touch-up inspector, DOT code 726.684-050.  The occupation title tells us that there is a problem -- inspector.  The DOT narrative describes the work functions as:

Inspects and repairs circuitry image on photoresist film (separate film or film laminated to fiberglass boards) used in manufacture of printed circuit boards (PCB's): Inspects film under magnifying glass for holes, breaks, and bridges (connections) in photoresist circuit image. Removes excess photoresist, using knife. Touches up holes and breaks in photoresist circuitry image, using photoresist ink pen. Removes and stacks finished boards for transfer to next work station. Maintains production reports. May place lint free paper between dry film sheets to avoid scratching circuit images on film.
The vocational expert stated that the claimant could perform the occupation of a touch-up screener, circuit board assembly, DOT code 726.684-110.  For this occupation, the title does not reveal the problem unless screener means that the work function includes screening product.    The DOT describes the work functions as:
Inspects printed circuit board (PCB) assemblies for defects, such as missing or damaged components, loose connections, or defective solder: Examines PCB's under magnification lamp and compares boards to sample board to detect defects. Labels defects requiring extensive repairs, such as missing or misaligned parts, damaged components, and loose connections, and routes boards to repairer. Performs minor repairs, such as cleaning boards with freon to remove solder flux; trimming long leads, using wire cutter; removing excess solder from solder points (connections), using suction bulb or solder wick and soldering iron; or resoldering connections on PCB's where solder is insufficient. Maintains record of defects and repairs to indicate recurring production problems. May reposition and solder misaligned components. May measure clearances between board and connectors, using gauges.
Inspectors inspect for conformance to standards.  Inspectors decide whether the product in front of him/her meet the employer's standards for sale or whether the product needs repair and to decide the nature and extent of those repairs.  The worker decides as the essential job function. 

Both occupations belong to the same Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) group, 51-9061 for inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers.  There are 782 different DOT codes within the group.   The O*NET confirms that the most important core function of this occupational group involves inspecting, testing, and measuring.  The O*NET informs that the typical work in this group covers specific vocational preparation (SVP) code of 4 to <6.  Ignoring that this occupational group has few if any unskilled work, these workers decide.  While the unskilled variety of inspectors may not make repair decisions, the inspectors decide that the manufacturing process produced a defective or deficient product, or that the product meets the standards. 

So why would a vocational expert offer inspector occupations to respond to a hypothetical question involving occasional decision-making?  These are sedentary occupations and the existence of unskilled sedentary work is increasingly rare.  The DOT lists these two technical-related occupations that are likely to survive out-sourcing and automation.  Inspectors check the automated process.  The knee-jerk reaction to identify some work is just wrong.  When the ALJ asks the vocational expert whether the testimony conforms to the DOT, the answer "yes" is at best irresponsible.  Vocational experts must offer the honest testimony that either the occupation is not appropriate or offer a reasonable explanation how and why inspectors don't have the clear job function of making a decision throughout the workday. 



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