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Strategies to Help Employees Return to Work Jun 21st, 2014
Engaged and productive employees are the lifeblood of almost every business. No employer wants valuable human resources at home when they could be working. Time off work is unhealthy. The longer an employee is off work the less chance there is of returning to work (RTW).

The World Health Organization for example, stated in an international study that safe and productive work is a major source of physical and psychological well-being.

Does your workplace currently have an Injury Management System as required by Workcover WA? Are you seeing the results that you expected to see? Maybe your workplace is fully insured or you are trying to manage your benefit programs in-house, or as part of duties of the HR Department. Have you become overburdened with administration and less than satisfactory results?

The key components of an Injury Management System should include:

Senior support

One of the foundations of a solid injury management is to get senior support on side. The challenge of managing disability in both human and financial terms is enormous, yet the factors involved in finding the right strategy are still poorly understood at an organizational level. There are many reasons to get an organisation interested in injury management.

Early Identification

Injury Management Systems begin with early identification of injuried workers.  Also crucial is the identification of potential conditions that can result in worker disability.

The sooner there are the correctly identified symptoms the sooner return to work planning can put in place strategies to resolve them. Early intervention is proactive and affords the opportunity to identify which claims may need special handling to resolve them early.

Evaluation of medical, psychosocial and return to work needs.

We have found three types of disability groups have come to light over the years.


The first is short duration claim where the patient has a well-defined acute episode (i.e. flu, strain or sprain). These cases will return to work often with minimal intervention.


The second group represents patients with sub-acute or progressive diseases or injuries. This population often needs help with ensuring the primary interventions are enough to progress back to health. They may need help in finding their way through the health care maze to a provider that can assist in resolving their medical or psychosocial issues. It is important to keep this group focused on the return to work goal and that may need assistance via a graduate RTW.


The third group are those with terminal or debilitating diseases, such as Chronic Pain, Cancer or Multiple Sclerosis, that may eventually prevent return to work. The primary needs are ensuring these people are familiar with the range of services available in their community and providing help with ongoing discussions on their level of ability.

Ability Management

In all three groups, there are essential best practices to bear in mind.

Focus on what the person can do, not the cure. If disability limits what a person can do due to illness, injury or a condition then effective management, rather than eliminating symptoms, discusses what the employee is able to do.

Symptoms such as pain are not disability, they are symptoms. Often staying at home and dwelling on the pain can lead to a Chronic Pain Syndrome. Work provides many people with friends, support networks, focus, meaning and distraction from ruminating on a condition. 

Focus on ability is the goal, while being compassionate but firm. It is important to work together and empathize with the conflicting feelings of pain versus disability; however, through gradual transition back to work the symptoms will decrease as the tolerance for activity or interaction increases.

Return to Work

Return to work should always be the goal.

From the first interaction with the employee, their physician, their manager, and/or the union representative (where applicable) make it clear that any treatment, medication, protocol or intervention is for returning the employee to work as soon as possible. Encourage health care providers to set up tentative return to work dates.

Discuss the appropriate treatment duration. For example, with a back injury, emphasize that a few days bed rest, active physiotherapy, rapid reactivation, and return to normal activity levels, is the general strategy for most people.

In this situation, it is also necessary to emphasize that returning to work is not about waiting for the absence of pain. What the employee is able to do, not pain, is the benchmark for returning to work.

Reasonable job accommodations or transitional jobs (i.e. suitable duties) are a necessary part of effective return to work. An effective return to work program often includes a phase in which the employee returns for specified periods and specific tasks. The intent should always be a return to a regular position. This could be either the pre-disability position – or another suited to the employee’s skills, capabilities and knowledge. Alternative duties should be re assessed regularly.

Measurement of the results

An effective injury management program needs to have a way to measure its outcomes.

Comparison of data from one period to the next is critical to measure the effectiveness of a particular intervention. When the goals set for the system are measurable it helps to determine their effectiveness. In the end you are able to say, “what was it before and how are we doing now.”

As well as gathering the data, there is the need to communicate the results and use them to drive prevention programs. When you get all parties involved to embrace the broader view of disability management it can be a very effective part of taking care of your business.

Contact Us for an Injury Management System Assessment

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