6. Return to work needs planning; this should always include planning for failure
Like any process, identifying the steps needed to plan for success is important. Simply allowing a GRTW program to meander towards closure is unwise and cannot anticipate problems that may arise along the way. The best way to focus a GRTW program is to put goals, or quality gates, in place to check off milestones as they are achieved, and to identify them when they are not. This may include breaking the hours of work into groups such as 10 hours per week, 20, 30 and so on within a timescale, or it may focus upon the physical aspects of the job. Examples such as lifting, carrying, and walking and an increase in duties are always good and can assist the injured worker with goal setting along the way.
Rehabilitation is one area where failure regularly occurs and, more often than not, this is not a reflection on any of the participants involved. It is simply the case that not every individual recovers at the same rate or in the same manner and this needs to be factored in when a GRTW program is instigated. Being flexible and able to cope with change at short notice is incredibly important and far less likely to lead to frustration and anger.
Similarly, not every injured worker is going to return to their pre-injury occupation. Planning for this, in the more serious cases, should start immediately and include conditioning the worker for this via counselling, vocational assistance, training and literacy assistance. Don’t wait until it’s too late! There is no reason why vocational training cannot start almost immediately. It helps focus the injured worker and build their skills base whilst the GRTW program is underway. It is always worth remembering that if they do return to their pre-injury duties, the worker will have additional skills that could lead towards promotion and retention within the company.
7. Engage with all levels of management; a sense of ownership is paramount
As seen with most systems within a workplace, if there is ownership and buy-in from senior management, this filters down to the shop floor and to the workforce as a whole. Rehabilitation is about assisting people who have been injured at work to return to their jobs as soon as possible in a safe and managed way. This cannot be siloed into being just the return to work coordinator and the injured worker responsibilities, nor can it be handed off to external parties to manage. Workers work and managers manage! The GRTW program is an ideal opportunity for this ownership to be evident and put into practice. Workers who are not engaged by management are far more likely to experience a disproportionate outcome through failures in rehabilitation and return to work.
8. Learn from the past.
In order to get an understanding of how well (or poor) your return to work practices are, engage with your insurer and explore your past claims data to ascertain what types of injuries are occurring and what sorts of outcomes your organisation experiences. Gaining a high level insight into your risk profile assists with planning and anticipating what types of services, infrastructure and medical services will be required and then get them on-board as soon as possible.
9. Develop health programs around your injury experiences
One of the best ways to manage your workers’ compensation claims in the workplace is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Some research suggests that there is a 4:1 ratio of dollars spent in health management costs against workers’ compensation costs. In other words, there is far greater financial value in identifying and managing conditions before they become workers’ compensation claims. The benefits here are not exclusive to just the organisation but the worker themselves. For example, if your claims history is suggestive of back claims, implement a health program aimed directly at targeting core spine strength. This can be further targeted by understanding which occupations are more likely to incur these types of injuries and by doing so, your organisation can use health management tools to manage, rather than just waiting until further claims come in.
10. Survey injured workers after their return to work
Most individuals who have returned to work following an injury have a story to tell. Learn from them. Surveying injured workers is a critical and yet often underutilised tool for gaining valuable insight into how your return to work and indeed rehabilitation system works. A simple but effective questionnaire should be used, asking questions around areas such as support, timeframes, communication and the graduated nature of their duties can be quite valuable when it comes to seeing how the system actually works from the injured workers perspective. Often, decisions surrounding the rehabilitation system can be made with the best of intention, but these can be confusing and often inconvenient for the injured worker. A case in point was an organisation that was so keen on providing hydrotherapy, for the best of reasons, it had not factored in that the hydrotherapy facility in the local town was outdoors, and as a result, freezing for the worker in winter and probably offered as much downside from a motivation perspective as it did positively, from a physical rehabilitation perspective.