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U.S. Jobs and the Occupational Requirements Survey

U.S. Jobs and the Occupational Requirements Survey

By Carol Hayman, Workforce Insights Analyst 


Andrew Van Dam, within the Department of Data at the Washington Post, published an article on March 1, 2024 wherein he set out to discuss the most physically demanding jobs in America, and describe how such determinations were made.  It is important to assess physical and cognitive demands because the Social Security Administration (SSA) can use these results to determine eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

The Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), conducted in partnership with the SSA, could better aid the SSA in deciding on disability claims.  Van Dam states that the ORS is a result of a five-year effort to collect 148,600 observations of the exact physical requirements of approximately 480 selected occupations at 56,300 U.S. workplaces. 

Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) Description

The ORS is a Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) survey that gathers information from employers regarding current job characteristics to aid the SSA in their disability determination process.  This includes information on job duties as well as the education and training requirements.2

A BLS economist contacts employers and reviews specific survey items about job demands required to perform the critical tasks of selected jobs. Information is grouped into the following main categories:

  • Education, Training & Experience: Minimum education, Experience, Credentials, On-the-job training
  • Cognitive & Mental Requirements: Work pace, Work review, Control of workload
  • Physical Demands: Sitting, Standing, Climbing, Reaching, Crouching, Stooping, Lifting or carrying
  • Environmental Conditions: Extreme heat or cold, Heavy vibrations, Hazardous contaminants, Outdoors, Noise level, Wetness, Humidity

ORS 2023 Latest Numbers2

The latest ORS 2023 numbers indicate that 29.3% of surveyed occupations have sedentary physical demands, while only 8.2% require heavy work strength levels.  Furthermore, 80.2% of occupations have moderate noise intensity levels and 33% of workers are exposed to the outdoors.  Forty percent require a high school diploma and 19.3% require a bachelor’s degree.  Finally, nearly 80% of cognitive requirements of civilian workers entail interaction with the general public.




Physical Demands of Civilian Workers - Work Strength Levels










Very Heavy



Environmental Condition of Civilian Workers - Intensity Level


Exposed to outdoors


Quiet noise


Moderate noise


Loud noise



Education, Training, and Experience of Civilian Workers - Education Requirement


No Minimum


High School diploma


Associate's degree


Bachelor's degree


Master's degree


Professional degree



Cognitive and Mental Requirements of Civilian Workers


Interaction with the general public


Vary work pace


Telework available


a Duration levels are used to calculate the amount of time spent lifting or carrying.  There are four duration levels in relation to a job’s workday schedule: seldom (up to 2 percent), occasional (2 percent to 1/3), frequent (1/3 to 2/3), and constant (2/3 or more).

b Outdoor exposure is considered present when workers perform critical tasks outdoors and the worksite does not contain at least three walls and a roof.

How Does the ORS Help the Social Security Administration?

The SSA disability program policy requires five steps of sequential evaluation to determine whether adult claimants qualify for disability benefits. Steps one through three involve making eligibility decisions based on information about the severity of claimants’ medical impairments. Steps four and five require information about work that exists nationally. At step four, claimants’ functional abilities are compared with the demands of their past work as they describe it and as workers generally perform it in the national economy. Step five involves determining whether there are other types of work in the national economy a claimant can perform.  Currently, decisions made in steps four and five are based on the occupational information found in the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion volume, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (SCO).3

The Most Physically Demanding and Wettest Jobs in the U.S.

The Department of Data at the Wall Street Journal utilized the ORS to determine the most physically demanding job in America. They found that firefighters, RV and bus-and-truck mechanics, roofers, paramedics, and police officers took the honors based upon physical components and most environmental components (e.g., exposure to extreme heat or hazardous materials) as well. 

Also determined: the wettest jobs in America. One of the wettest, as measured by environmental demands, is dishwasher.  Others include nurse midwives, animal caretakers, cafeteria cooks, and firefighters. 

ORS Implications        

The ORS survey results could have a positive impact on those with disabilities, since it will be used   to classify some as disabled and determine ultimately those who will need disability payments.  Over $187 billion was spent on disability payments in 2021, more than on food stamps and house assistance combined ($169 billion).4 In assessing eligibility, SSA examiners need to know whether a person can perform their old job or any other possible job in the country. 



1The Most Physically Demanding Jobs in America, The Washington Post, Andrew Van Dam, March 1, 2024.

2U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Requirements Survey

3FY2021 OIS Report to Congress,, April 13, 2022

4Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS): Why It Matters, Infographic, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021