Safety and training are the primary means of minimizing and reducing work injuries. After an injury has occurred, however, the primary way to reduce workers’ compensation costs and provide benefits is by assisting the injured worker in return to work. Employers and employees should become familiar with the benefits they can each reap with return-to-work.
Returning the injured employee to work is beneficial for many reasons. A work injury can be difficult for the employee and the employer for many reasons. For the worker, workers’ compensation provides limited indemnity (wage replacement) benefits. The worker may also lose valuable employment benefits and the many psychosocial benefits of work. For employers, they lose a skilled worker whose replacement requires time, training, and experience and the costs associated with each. Further, studies have long indicated that the longer an injured worker is out of work, the less likely they are to ever return to work.
Return to work can benefit everyone, but the to reap the benefits you must plan ahead. Planning on return-to-work should start before the work injury. Larger employers may have more flexibility and resources to implement a return-to-work program. Even small employers can consider these suggestions:
Plan ahead Start by figuring out what each of your positions physically require. Determine the physical requirements of each job. Consider how much the worker needs to lift, carry, kneel, walk, stand, or use both hands? It may take time to determine the physical requirements of each job. Ask your employees before an injury what is required of their jobs. Write it down and keep track of it.
Return-to-Work Committee Many larger employers find that a committee can accomplish more than a single human resources member or shift manager. Committee members may include safety and health staff, management, and/or an employee who has had a work injury in the past. Consider staff who can provide the necessary input and insight for each job or shift you may need to review for return to work in the future.
Job modification If work is not readily available for an injured employee, maybe a job can be modified so that the employee can return in a partial capacity. The goal is to return the injured worker to the pre-injury job, but that may not be possible right away. An employee may still be recovering or may not fully recover. They may, however, have valuable skills and experience which can be put to good use in a modified job.
Progressive return to work A worker who has been disabled due to a work injury is probably still recovering when they are first able to return to work. They may have activity restrictions or limits on the number of hours they can work each day. It is important to obtain accurate physical capability information from the employee’s physician and to follow the doctor’s guidelines. Asking a recovering employee to do too much can cause a big setback for everyone and defeat the goals of return to work.
Communication Returning an injured worker to a modified or temporary job requires good communication between the employer, the employee, the physician and possibly also a vocational rehabilitation counselor or return-to-work committee member. Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of the individual worker’s return to work plan and should be prepared to monitor and modify or progress the plan.Goal: successful return to work A work