Social Security Disability and the Meaning of Exertional Levels

Social Security Disability and SSI claims often deal with physical ailments and their effects on a person’s ability to do work. The Social Security Administration determines whether the person seeking benefits can perform his/her past work and whether other work exists considering his/her residual functional capacity, i.e. what the claimant can still do despite her physical or mental impairments. What is an exertional level?

The Social Security Administration defines exertional level as a work classification defining the functional requirements of work in terms of the range of the primary strength activities required. Besides strength requirements, other activities are necessary to carry out the requirements of sedentary, light, and medium work.

Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying. Although sitting is involved, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met. “Occasionally” means occurring from very little up to one-third of the time. Since being on one’s feet is required “occasionally” at the sedentary level of exertion, periods of standing or walking should generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and sitting should generally total approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive hand-finger actions.

Light work has lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted in a particular light job may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing. “Frequent” means occurring from one-third to two-thirds of the time. Frequent lifting or carrying requires being on one’s feet up to two-thirds of a workday. Thus, the full range of light work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Sitting may occur intermittently during the remaining time. A job is also in this category when it involves sitting most of the time, but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls, which require greater exertion than in sedentary work. The lifting requirement for the majority of light jobs can be accomplished with occasional, rather than frequent, stooping. Many unskilled light jobs are performed primarily in one location, with the ability to stand being more critical than the ability to walk. They require use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and turn objects, and they generally do not require use of the fingers for fine activities to the extent required in much sedentary work.

Medium requires lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. A full range of medium work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. For answers for frequently asked questions, click here.

If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI, personal injury, EEOICPA, long or short-term disability, VA disability, Railroad Retirement Board disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation. We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or through our website. Our office handles claims throughout Tennessee.




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