SSR 83-14: TITLES II AND XVI: CAPABILITY TO DO OTHER WORK -- THE MEDICAL-VOCATIONAL RULES AS A FRAMEWORK FOR EVALUATING A COMBINATION OF EXERTIONAL AND NONEXERTIONAL IMPAIRMENTS
PURPOSE: To clarify how the table rules in Appendix 2, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4, provide a framework for decisions concerning persons who have both a severe exertional impairment and a nonexertional limitation or restriction.
CITATIONS (AUTHORITY): Sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act; Regulations No. 4, Subpart P, sections 404.1505(a), 404.1520(f)(1), 404.1545, 404.1560-404.1569; Appendix 2 of Subpart P, section 200.00(e)(2); and Regulations No. 16, Subpart I, sections 416.905(a), 416.920(f)(1), 416.945, 416.960-416.969.
PERTINENT HISTORY: No table rule applies to direct a conclusion of "Disabled" or "Not disabled" where an individual has a nonexertional limitation or restriction imposed by a medically determinable impairment. In these situations, the table rules are used, in conjunction with the definitions and discussions provided in the text of the regulations, as a framework for decisionmaking.
This Program Policy Statement (PPS) clarifies the distinction between exertional and nonexertional limitations and explains how the latter affect performance of work activities. The PPS also explains how to evaluate the vocational effects of nonexertional impairments within the context of the exertionally based table rules where claimants or beneficiaries also have severe exertional impairments that limit them to sedentary, light, or medium work.
See the cross-reference section at the end of this PPS for related PPS's, the first one of which contains a glossary of terms used.
POLICY STATEMENT: The term "exertional" has the same meaning in the regulations as it has in the United States Department of Labor's publication, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). In the DOT supplement, Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (SCO), occupations are classified as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy according to the degree of primary strength requirements of the occupations. These consist of three work positions (standing, walking, and sitting) and four worker movements of objects (lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling).
Any functional or environmental job requirement which is not exertional is "nonexertional." In the disability programs, a nonexertional impairment is one which is medically determinable and causes a nonexertional limitation of function or an environmental restriction. Nonexertional impairments may or may not significantly narrow the range of work a person can do. In the SCO, where specific occupations have critical demands for certain physical activities, they are rated for climbing or balancing; stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; reaching, handling, fingering, or feeling; talking or hearing; and seeing. Occupations are also rated for certain environmental conditions (e.g., high humidity or excessive dust). With respect to job complexity, occupations are rated by the training time required for average performance. Further, the occupational code numbers assigned to jobs reflect different levels of complexity in dealing with data, people, and objects. Narrative occupational descriptions in the DOT explain what is generally done in the job.
Effects of Nonexertional Impairments
Maintaining body equilibrium; using the fingers and finger tips to work with small objects; using the eyes and ears to see and hear; and using the vocal apparatus to speak are considered nonexertional activities. Limitations of these functions can affect the capacity to perform certain jobs at all levels of physical exertion. An entire range of jobs can be severely compromised. For example, section 201.00(h) of Appendix 2 calls attention to the fact that bilateral manual dexterity is necessary for the performance of substantially all unskilled sedentary occupations.
Mental activities are also nonexertional. Jobs at various levels of complexity require mental functions such as intellectual competence and ability to function in terms of behavior, affect, thought, memory, orientation and contact with reality. Exposure to particular work stresses may not be medically sustainable for some persons with mental impairments, as would be the case with some persons who have physical impairments (e.g., certain cardiovascular or gastrointestinal disorders). Depending on the nature and extent of a person's mental impairment which does not meet or equal the criteria in the Listing of Impairments, relatively broad or narrow types of work may be precluded (e.g., dealing with a variety of abstract and concrete variables with nonverbal symbolism -- a highly skilled level of work -- or dealing frequently with members of the public -- a particular type of work at any level of complexity). Although mental impairments as such are considered to be nonexertional, some conditions (e.g., depression or a conversion reaction) may also affect a person's exertional capacity.
Working conditions (environmental demands) which a person may not be able to tolerate as a result of an impairment include exposure to extremes of heat or cold, humidity, noise, vibration, hazards, fumes, dust, and toxic conditions. Physical limitation of function may be linked with an environmental restriction (e.g., a respiratory impairment may diminish exertional capacity as well as restrict a person to types of work not requiring exposure to excessive dust or fumes). In other cases, functional ability may not be impaired by an environmental restriction (e.g., a person may be able to do anything so long as he or she is not near dangerous moving machinery, on unprotected elevations, or in contact with certain substances to which he or she is allergic).
After it has been decided that an impaired person can meet the primary strength requirements of sedentary, light, or medium work -- sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling -- a further decision may be required as to how much of this potential occupational base remains, considering certain nonexertional limitations which the person may also have. For example, at all exertional levels, a person must have certain use of the arms and hands to grasp, hold, turn, raise, and lower objects. Most sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers. In jobs performed in a seated position which require the operation of pedals or treadles, a person must have the use of his or her legs and feet. Relatively few jobs in the national economy require ascending or descending ladders and scaffolding. Two types of bending must be done frequently (from one-third to two-thirds of the time) in most medium, heavy, and very heavy jobs because of the positions of objects to be lifted, the amounts of weights to be moved, and the required repetitions. They are stooping (bending the body downward and forward by bending the spine at the waist) and crouching (bending the body downward and forward by bending both the legs and spine). However, to perform substantially all of the exertional requirements of most sedentary and light jobs, a person would not need to crouch and would need to stoop only occasionally (from very little up to one-third of the time, depending on the particular job).
For additional discussions of nonexertional impairments, see SSR 83-13, PPS-104, Capability to Do Other Work -- The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Solely Nonexertional Impairments.
Evaluating the Claim
Section 200.00(e)(2) of Appendix 2 provides that, "where an individual has an impairment or combination of impairments resulting in both strength limitations and nonexertional limitations, the rules in this subpart are considered in determining first whether a finding of disabled may be possible based on the strength limitations alone and, if not, the rule(s) reflecting the individual's maximum residual strength capabilities, age, education, and work experience provide a framework for consideration of how much the individual's work capability is further diminished in terms of any types of jobs that would be contraindicated by the nonexertional limitations. Also, in these combinations of nonexertional and exertional limitations which cannot be wholly determined under the rules in this Appendix 2, full consideration must be given to all of the relevant facts in the case in accordance with the definitions and discussions of each factor in the appropriate sections of the regulations, which will provide insight into the adjudicative weight to be accorded each factor."
Disabled Based on Strength Limitations Alone
Where a person's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience coincide with the criteria of an exertionally based rule in Table No. 1, 2, or 3 -- and that rule directs a conclusion of "Disabled" -- there is no need to consider the additional effects of a nonexertional impairment since consideration of it would add nothing to the fact of disability. A written determination or decision supporting a conclusion must specify the rule in Appendix 2 which directs such conclusion. It must also reflect consideration of the individual steps of the sequential evaluation process specified in sections 404.1520 and 416.920 of the regulations. There must also be findings of fact based on the evidence in the individual claim which leads to the conclusion that the individual is not exertionally capable of doing work different from past work, considering the medical and vocational factors (See SSR 83-11, PPS-102, Capability to Do Other Work -- The Exertionally Based Medical-Vocational Rules Met.)
The Exertionally Based Rules as A Framework for Evaluating
Additional Impairments of a Nonexertional Nature
Where a person cannot be found disabled based on strength limitations alone, the rule(s) which corresponds to the person's vocational profile and maximum sustained exertional work capability (Table No. 1, 2, or 3) will be the starting point to evaluate what the person can still do functionally. The rules will also be used to determine how the totality of limitations or restrictions reduces the occupational base of administratively noticed unskilled sedentary, light, or medium jobs.
A particular additional exertional or nonexertional limitation may have very little effect on the range of work remaining that an individual can perform. The person, therefore, comes very close to meeting a table rule which directs a conclusion of "Not disabled." On the other hand, an additional exertional or nonexertional limitation may substantially reduce a range of work to the extent that an individual is very close to meeting a table rule which directs a conclusion of "Disabled."
Use of a vocational resource may be helpful in the evaluation of what appear to be "obvious" types of cases. In more complex situations, the assistance of a vocational resource may be necessary. The publications listed in sections 404.1566 and 416.966 of the regulations will be sufficient for relatively simple issues. In more complex cases, a person or persons with specialized knowledge would be helpful. State agencies may use personnel termed vocational consultants or specialists, or they may purchase the services of vocational evaluation workshops. Vocational experts may testify for this purpose at the hearing and Appeals Council levels. In this PPS, the term vocational specialist (VS) describes all vocational resource personnel.
Examples of Evaluation Involving Combinations of
Exertional and Nonexertional Limitations
- 1. Sedentary exertion combined with a nonexertional impairment. Example 1 of section 201.00(h) in Appendix 2 illustrates a limitation to unskilled sedentary work with an additional loss of bilateral manual dexterity that is significant and, thus, warrants a conclusion of "Disabled." (The bulk of unskilled sedentary jobs requires bilateral manual dexterity.) An example of nonexertional impairment which ordinarily has an insignificant effect on a per son's ability to work is an allergy to ragweed pollen. Many individuals who have this allergy experience no more discomfort during the ragweed season than someone who has a common cold. However, others are more affected by the condition. Assuming that an individual has a severe impairment of the low back which limits that person to sedentary work, and that the assessment of RFC also restricts him or her from workplaces which involve exposure to ragweed pollen, the implications for adjustment to sedentary work are relatively clear. Ragweed grows outdoors and its pollen is carried in the air, but the overwhelming majority of sedentary jobs are performed indoors. Therefore, with the possible exclusion of some outdoor sedentary occupations which would require exposure to ragweed pollen, the unskilled sedentary occupational base is not significantly compromised. The decisionmaker may need the assistance of a VS in determining the significance of the remaining occupational base of unskilled sedentary work in more difficult cases.
- 2. Light exertion combined with a nonexertional impairment. The major difference between sedentary and light work is that most light jobs -- particularly those at the unskilled level of complexity -- require a person to be standing or walking most of the workday. Another important difference is that the frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds (which is required for the full range of light work) implies that the worker is able to do occasional bending of the stooping type, i.e., for no more than one-third of the workday to bend the body downward and forward by bending the spine at the waist. Unlike unskilled sedentary work, many unskilled light jobs do not entail fine use of the fingers. Rather, they require gross use of the hands to grasp, hold, and turn objects. Any limitation of these functional abilities must be considered very carefully to determine its impact on the size of the remaining occupational base of a person who is otherwise found functionally capable of light work.
- Where a person has a visual impairment which is not of Listing severity but causes the person to be a hazard to self and others -- usually a constriction of visual fields rather than a loss of acuity -- the manifestations of tripping over boxes while walking, inability to detect approaching persons or objects, difficulty in walking up and down stairs, etc., will indicate to the decisionmaker that the remaining occupational base is significantly diminished for light work (and medium work as well).
- On the other hand, there are nonexertional limitations or restrictions which have very little or no effect on the unskilled light occupational base. Examples are inability to ascend or descend scaffolding, poles, and ropes; inability to crawl on hands and knees; and inability to use the finger tips to sense the temperature or texture of an object. Environmental restrictions, such as the need to avoid exposure to feathers, would also not significantly affect the potential unskilled light occupational base.
- Where nonexertional limitations or restrictions within the light work category are between the examples above, a decisionmaker will often require the assistance of a VS.
- 3. Medium exertion combined with a nonexertional impairment. Most medium jobs, like most light jobs, require the worker to stand or walk most of the time. Also, as in light work, most unskilled medium jobs require gross use of the hands to grasp, hold, and turn objects rather than use of the fingers for fine movements of small objects. Medium work is distinct from the less strenuous levels in the activities needed to accomplish the considerable lifting and carrying involved for the full range of medium work. A maximum of 50 pounds may be lifted at a time, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. (Frequent in this context means from one-third to two-thirds of the workday.) Consequently, to perform the full range of medium work as defined, a person must be able to do both frequent stooping and frequent crouching -- bending both the back and the legs -- in order to move objects from one level to another or to move the objects near foot level. While individual occupations classified as medium work vary in exertional demands from just above the light work requirements to the full range of medium work, any limitation of these functional abilities must be considered very carefully to determine its impact on the size of the remaining occupational base of a person who is otherwise found capable of medium work.
- In jobs at the medium level of exertion, there is more likelihood than in light work that such factors as the ability to ascend or descend ladders and scaffolding, kneel, and crawl will be a part of the work requirement. However, limitations of these activities would not significantly affect the occupational base.
- As in light work, inability to use the finger tips to sense the temperature or texture of an object is an example of a nonexertional limitation which would have very little effect on the potential unskilled medium occupational base. The need to avoid environments which contain objects or substances commonly known not to exist in most workplaces would be an obvious example of a restriction which does not significantly affect the medium occupational base.
- Where nonexertional limitations or restrictions within the medium work category are between the examples above, a decisionmaker will often require the assistance of a VS.
- The Disability Determination or Decision Based on a Combination of Exertional and Nonexertional Impairments
The usual requirements apply for a clear, persuasive, orderly rationale, reflecting the sequential evaluation process. There must be findings of fact and recitation of the evidence which supports each finding (see SSR 82-56, PPS-81, The Sequential Evaluation Process). Whenever a vocational resource is used and an individual is found to be not disabled, the determination or decision will include (1) citations of examples of occupations/jobs the person can do functionally and vocationally and (2) a statement of the incidence of such work in the region in which the individual resides or in several regions of the country.
In reaching judgments as to the sufficiency of the remaining exertional job base (approximately 2,500 unskilled medium, light, and sedentary occupations, approximately 1,600 unskilled light and sedentary occupations, and approximately 200 unskilled sedentary occupations), there are three possible situations to consider:
- 1. Where it is clear that the additional limitation or restriction has very little effect on the exertional occupational base, the conclusion directed by the appropriate rule in Tables No. 1, 2, or 3 would not be affected.
- 2. Where it is clear that additional limitations or restrictions have significantly eroded the exertional job base set by the exertional limitations alone, the remaining portion of the job base will guide the decision.
- 3. Where the adjudicator does not have a clear understanding of the effects of additional limitations on the job base, the services of a VS will be necessary.
EFFECTIVE DATE: Final regulations providing the Medical-Vocational Guidelines were published in the Federal Register on November 28, 1978, at 43 FR 55349, effective February 26, 1979. They were rewritten to make them easier to understand and were published on August 20, 1980, at 45 FR 55566. The policies in this PPS also became effective as of February 26, 1979.
CROSS-REFERENCES: Program Operations Manual System, Part 4 (Disability Insurance State Manual Procedures), section DI 2388. A.5.b., SSR 83-10, PPS-101, Determining Capability to Do Other Work -- The Medical-Vocational Rules of Appendix 2 (with a glossary); SSR 83-11, PPS-102, Capability to Do Other Work -- The Exertionally Based Medical-Vocational Rules Met; SSR 83-12, PPS-103, Capability to Do Other Work -- The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Exertional Limitations Within a Range of Work or Between Ranges of Work; and SSR 83-13, PPS-104, Capability to Do Other Work -- The Medical-Vocational Rules as a Framework for Evaluating Solely Nonexertional Impairments.
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