At step 4 of Social Security's sequential evaluation, the SSA considers whether or not you have the ability to return to your past relevant work. The SSA considers your past work, both as you performed it (and described it in your Work History Report), and how that work is generally performed in the national economy. See Ruling 82-61.
To determine how the work is generally performed in the national economy, the SSA looks to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) for a description of your job. For example, if you were a cashier, the SSA would look at the requirements of that job both as you described it and as it is described in the DOT.
The work history report doesn't have much space to describe your job duties. Most claimants just give the title of their previous jobs, and don't fully describe their job duties. The SSA will then try to match the title of that job to a listing in the DOT. This is where the problems begin, because the job descriptions in the DOT are often not an exact match to the job performed by the claimant.
I have one such claim right now. The claimant worked as a safety coordinator. He described the job as light to medium exertional work, requiring him to make site visits regularly and carry heavy materials from time to time. DDS denied the claim at step 4, stating that the claimant could still perform that job as generally performed.
However, when I reviewed the claim file, I learned that DDS used the DOT description for safety manager for its analysis. Safety manager was the claimant's boss's title, not the job the claimant performed. Safety manager is a sedentary job, and does not involve site visits or carrying heavy materials occasionally. The job of safety coordinator, on the other hand, is more physically demanding.
The claimant is over the age of 55. If past work is ruled out, he would then grid "disabled" under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. So this error by DDS is the difference between winning and losing the claim.
I am confident that we be able to remedy this DDS error at the hearing level, hopefully with an on the record request.
Related Article: Past Relevant Work: the Composite Job