Central West Health & Rehabilitation
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Line Supervisors - An Important role in RTW Apr 15th, 2014
Although there are many stakeholders in the RTW process, and employees supervisor has a pivotal role. A review of workers’ compensation systems in Australia revealed that injured workers nominated someone from the workplace as providing the most help with their RTW (16 %), third after their general practitioner (20 %) and their physiotherapist (19 %). Of that 16 %, nearly one-third (30 %) of injured workers nominated their immediate supervisor as the most helpful person at the workplace compared with occupational health and safety (OHS) officers (8 %), human resource (HR) staff (3 %) or RTW coordinators (3 %). However, 16 % of injured workers said their supervisor made RTW harder and these workers were less likely to sustain RTW

Employee supervisors provide:

  • modified work,

  • interpret policies,

  • assist with access to resources,

  • monitor workers’ health and functioning,

  • facilitate communication among stakeholders, and

  • communicate positive messages of concern and support, while having intimate knowledge of the jobs available.

  • The interface among upper management, rehabilitation and health care providers, coworkers, and the injured worker. 

However supervisors frequently experience role conflict between their production responsibilities and the demands of the modified work program. Some do not have a good understanding of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or the ergonomic principles underlying the selection of appropriate duties or how to modify duties to meet the medical restrictions. These problems may result in the supervisor either not adhering to restrictions set by the medical certificate or preferring the worker to be fully recovered before RTW, neither of which is desirable. 


Johnston et al, 2014 put forward a model of the 10 competencies that should receive priority in any training delivered to supervisors. Supervisors need and seek support from experts in managing staff returning to work. This support can assist with complex cases, provide clarity to the supervisor’s role, and connect the returning worker to the services available within the organization. In large organizations this support may be available from in-house rehabilitation and RTW specialists but small to medium sized organizations may be disadvantaged by its absence.

  1. Managing and respecting privacy issues and medical and other confidential information received

  2. Knowing the tasks and workload of the worker’s job 

  3. Knowing what and how much the injured worker can and can’t do and how the injury impacts on the demands of the job 

  4. (MHC) Managing privacy issues in terms of disclosure, e.g. with co-workers

  5. Being honest

  6. Being able to manage conflict 

  7. Being able to deliver sensitive information, including information the injured worker doesn’t want to hear

  8. Being fair and just 

  9. Communicating in a respectful and appropriate way

  10. Knowing their legal obligations as supervisors