Having access to an effective workplace injury management program, where a strong focus is on supporting injured and ill employees to recover at, and return to work quickly, safely and durably is vital in managing the health and wellbeing of staff.
It is also important for businesses to manage risks associated with injured and ill employees, including absenteeism, reduced productivity and workers compensation premiums.
Effective injury management programs include:
- Early Intervention,
- A focus on recovery at and return to work,
- Open communication, and
- Appropriate certification by practitioners.
Early intervention is one of the key components of an effective workplace injury management program. Essentially, early intervention needs to occur immediately as soon as an employee is injured or ill at work.
This is based on the clear evidence that:
- Good work is beneficial to people’s health and wellbeing, and that long-term work absence, work disability, and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing1, and that,
- Time is of the essence – as the likelihood of returning to work diminishes over time2.
Why is early intervention important?
Following a workplace injury or illness, employees need to feel cared about and supported by their workplace during the recovery process. This increases the likelihood of a positive outcome for all parties.
The absence of support by the workplace and a lack of support to access healthcare services can result in an injured or ill employee feeling unsupported and isolated and can lead to a prolonged work absences and have a negative impact on recovery, health and wellbeing.
Why is recovery at work/return to work important?
When a worker is injured or ill at work, it doesn’t always mean they need time off work. Research suggests that recovery at work is an important part of the rehabilitation process and effective injury management programs focus on supporting employees to stay at work.
Some of the benefits of staying at work or returning to work as soon as possible for ill or injured employees include:
- Improvement in general health and wellbeing
- A reduction psychological distress
- Improved recovery outcomes and reduced impact of an injury on an individual’s health and wellbeing
Some of the benefits of staying at work or returning to work as soon as possible for employers include:
- Improves staff morale
- Increases workforce participation and productivity
- Decreases absenteeism and early retirement
- Improves recovery outcomes and reduces the potential of workers’ compensation premium increases.
Getting back to work is an important step in recovering from a work-related injury and means a worker can return to a normal life, often reducing the financial and emotional impact on them and their family. Returning to work may mean a worker has gone back to their old job or another job and could involve working reduced hours or performing different suitable duties.
Why is communication important?
Effective communication and teamwork between the injured or ill employee, workplace and practitioner(s) are critical in improving outcomes.
Communication should ideally take place between all parties at the initial consultation, and if there is any significant change in status throughout the treatment.
A lack of communication can result in the injured or ill employee and workplace not being clear on the recommendations or support required to provide suitable recovery at work or return to work arrangements, potentially resulting in a prolonged return to work and negative impact on physical and psychological health.
What is appropriate certification?
When an injury occurs, the first step in the return to work process is the issuing of a certificate of capacity, usually by a General Practitioner (GP).
To certify appropriately and consistently based on the clinical assessment, the GP should determine what the injured worker can do (e.g. lift up to 5 kg) and what they can’t do (e.g. reach forward). Knowledge of pathology can also indicate what they shouldn’t do (e.g. reach overhead for a rotator cuff shoulder strain).
It’s easier to manage recovery or return work when specific restrictions are noted, rather than specific duties. As an example, it is better to state “no repetitive forward bending” rather than “admin duties only”. This assists the employer in better finding suitable duties that match the GP’s recommended restrictions.
When a certificate of capacity is issued by the GP, there are several features that should be avoided:
- Illegible information or unknown abbreviations
- Restrictions that are driven by the injured or ill employees, such as specific tasks, hours or shifts. These do not usually reflect medically necessary restrictions.
- Prolonged work restrictions with no progress. It would be reasonable to expect that in most cases, there would be progress in function as the condition improves.
If the GP doesn’t provide appropriate certification it is reasonable to discuss these principles.
In summary, effective injury management programs include early intervention, a focus on recovery at and return to work, open communication and appropriate certification.