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I have three clients at various stages of the Social Security disability process whose past relevant work is solely as a surgical technician, or surgery tech. Obviously, assisting the doctor in the operating room is a demanding job. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles describes the job as Light, SVP 7 (DOT Code 079.374-022). According to Selected Characteristics of Occupations (SOC), the companion volume to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the job requires frequent (up to 2/3rds of a workday) reaching, handling, and fingering, which makes sense.

The ability to perform past relevant work must be ruled out in every disability claim, or the case will be denied at step 4 of the sequential evaluation used in every Social Security disability case (unless a listed impairment is met).

What’s interesting is that each of these clients is unable to perform the past surgery tech job for a different reason.

  • Client 1 has polyneuralgia, and does not have the use of the hands required for the job. Before having to stop work, this client dropped instrument trays all the time. That is not acceptable in the environment of the operating theater.
  • Client 2 can’t do the standing required by the job, and by Light exertional work in general, due to back and joint problems.  Update: this claim was granted at the Reconsidertion level of review.
  • Client 3 has severe anxiety, which prevents this client from maintaining the focus and concentration required for this job. This client has other impairments, but anxiety is the thing that most clearly precludes this type of work. Update: this claim was granted at the Initial level of review.

I am confident that with a little help in the form of opinions from treating doctors, I will be able to rule out past relevant work in each of these cases. So bear in mind, either physical or mental impairments (or a combination) can be used to rule out past relevant work.