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The need for early return-to-work intervention.

Innovations in health care, increased longevity, expanded work years, and an aging workforce have created an environment today where people are staying in the workforce longer, increasing opportunities to develop an injury or illness that contribute to work disability and absenteeism. There are high costs associated with work disability and absenteeism for employers, for workers, and for society. Several studies have shown that the longer someone is absent from their job or the workforce due to an injury or illness, the harder it is for them to return-to-work (RTW). However, many injured or ill workers are able to remain in their jobs or the workforce if they receive timely, effective help.1

Early communication is key to successful RTW, and supervisors play a critical role. RTW coordinators can facilitate the process by creating an individualized RTW plan in conjunction with the supervisor, the worker and their physician.

The following recommendations were adapted from the Working Together guide, developed by a network of occupational therapists with work practice experience created by the Institute for Work & Health, in partnership with the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists and the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario.

What can an employer do to help workers return-to-work (RTW) early and safely and to ease and maximize reintegration into the work force?

  • Make early and considerate contact with injured workers. Employers with an early contact protocol in place have more successful RTW cases

    • Direct supervisor makes contact within 1st or 2nd week (actual timing would take into consideration the worker’s situation)

    • Conversations should be about the worker’s health and well-being and not on blame, cause of injury, or employer-focused issues or concerns

  • Communicate with the worker’s health care provider to discuss their needs. Employers that communicate with injured workers’ health care providers have more successful RTW cases

    • Ideally, communication involves the injured worker, the employer, and the health care provider

    • While specific form of communication is dependent on the worker’s situation, potential communication include:

      • Paper-based/telephonic discussion of worker’s health needs and potential work accommodations and job modifications

      • Workplace visit by health care provider to gain a better sense of the worker’s job demands and how best to modify them (or by rehabilitation, occupational health professionals or RTW coordinators)

  • Implement RTW program that includes training supervisors on topics such as:

    • RTW process/planning

    • Disability and injury prevention

    • Ergonomics

    • Job modification

    • Effective RTW communication and support

  • Create a RTW-friendly workplace that emphasizes the organization’s commitment to worker health and safety. Ways to create a RTW-friendly workplace include:

    • Investment of company resources to promote safety and coordinate RTW efforts

    • Implement and support safety policies and RTW programs

    • Develop an effective social support system

    • Coordinate efforts related to a participatory ergonomics framework

What would a RTW Coordinator’s responsibility include within my organization?

  • Assist workers in their RTW planning. Organizations with a designated RTW point person (often referred to as a RTW Coordinator) have more successful RTW cases.

    • Coordination efforts include:

      • RTW planning based on worker’s specific health needs and limitations

      • Ensuring communication does not break down while the worker is out

      • Communication with others involved (e.g., coworkers, supervisors, health care provider, unions, etc.) to make sure everyone is on the same page

What aspects of my worker’s job is important to consider in helping them get back to work?

  • It’s important to consider a worker’s job demands when helping them RTW. Not only does this highlight a worker’s strengths and existing skill base, it also helps to identify aspects of the job that may be challenging or difficult because of a musculoskeletal injury or pain. Understanding barriers to work can help better identify whether support is needed and what kinds of support might help workers RTW. Types of job demands include:

    • Physical job demands (e.g., lifting and/or carrying medium to heavy loads, fine motor skills or coordination, sit/stand/kneel for long durations)

    • Psychological demands (e.g., attention to detail, decision making, problem solving)

    • Interpersonal demands (e.g., supervisory responsibilities, engaging with clients/customers, motivating team members)

    • Environmental demands (e.g., moderate to loud noise, extreme weather conditions, hazardous materials)

Resources for Employers:

 

www.askearn.org – The Employer Assistance Resource Network (EARN) is a centralized source of employer-focused tools, resources and publications on disability inclusion.
www.askjan.org - The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.
Disability IN: Connecticut - is a coalition of Connecticut employers that are working together to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities and opportunities for success for disability owned businesses.
Office of Disability Employment Policy, “Return to Work Toolkit for Employers and Employees”
SOAR - Searchable Online Accommodation Resource
The Hartford: Return-to-Work/Stay-at-Work & ADA Resources

 

1Office of Disability Employment Policy. S@W/R2W & RETAIN Demonstration Projects


 

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