For employers, workplace injuries and illness can be costly - not just on a monetary basis, but also in the form of lost time and diminished work capacities. Many injured workers do not return until they are again capable of performing their designated job tasks; however, developing an alternative return to work program can often prove to be a more cost-effective and proactive way of addressing such concerns. The implementation of an injury management/return-to-work system enables employers to help injured employees to safely work despite their injury (although perhaps in a different capacity), or at least return to safe and productive work as soon as they are physically able to do so.
The process of injury management/return-to-work systems begins immediately after an incident has occurred, often in conjunction with the initial application of first aid. A qualified first aid provider can assess the severity of the injury, determining if the worker may be able to continue working as they heal - either in their normal capacity or with modified duties. If it is determined that the worker will require some time off, an injury management /return-to-work program can enable the injured worker to return to work earlier than has previously been the norm.
There are several critical aspects to any injury management/return-to-work systems, the first of which is of course a strong and obvious commitment to the process by senior management. This commitment can be signified by the development of thorough written procedures for injury management and return-to-work, signed by upper management and easily accessible to all members of the workforce. Another important aspect involves the development and maintenance of adequate resources, education and training to support the injury management/return-to-work system - in particular, the person who is responsible for administering the system must be well-versed in return-to-work procedures. As well, workers, first aid attendants, supervisors and management must be educated in any such procedures, and be able to demonstrate and apply their understanding.
A third aspect of developing an injury management/return-to-work system is the importance of addressing any issues as early as possible. Once an injury has occurred and first aid is being administered, an immediate assessment should be made to determine the employee's potential for returning to work - or remaining at work in modified duties. As well, it is recommended that procedures are already firmly in place to outline the use of modified duties or transitional return-to-work options for employees, which will provide a guide as the assessment is made. This process leads into the next step of injury management/return-to-work, which involves the establishment of return-to-work procedures long before an injury occurs - so that the injured employee can be reintegrated into the workplace as soon as they are ready. These return-to-work procedures should detail the roles and responsibilities of those involved, and offer possible work alternatives for those who will need to be on modified duties.
Another key aspect of the injury management/return-to-work system is adherence to the legal requirements for reporting and documenting work-related injuries; documentation of injuries can sometimes lead employers to identify trends and highlight areas where improvement is required. The reporting and documenting process are extremely valuable as they can lead to recommendations that may reduce or eliminate the recurrence of such an injury type.
Finally, as with any work-based procedure, the injury management/return to work system should involve a robust system of communication that begins as soon as the program is implemented. All levels of the workforce should be made aware of the specifics of the program and also be advised of the desired outcomes. These facts should be reiterated to any worker who is injured in the workplace; as first aid is administered, someone should remind the worker of the program and detail any possible modified duties. Finally, the lines of communication should be wide open throughout the worker's absence; on the very first day of absence, the worker should be contacted and advised of all of their options. A strong and open line of communication throughout the injury management/return to work program results in quicker and more efficient resolutions to worker injury or illness and subsequent time off and return-to-work procedures.
The development of an injury management/return-to-work system demonstrates a company's commitment to worker health and wellness, and to ensuring that injured and/or ill workers return to work in the most efficient, healthiest manner possible. Management must work to ensure that all components of the system have been thoroughly documented and properly communicated to the workforce. As well, management must demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the system as they regularly maintain and review the administration of the system to ensure its effectiveness - ensuring that all required documentation is close at hand in the event of an incident, and that all parties are adequately prepared to deal with such an incident. The development and maintenance of a thorough and organized injury management/return-to-work system will improve the efficiency of the company in the aftermath of an illness or injury, and streamline the response and follow-up process, making things easier for everyone involved - from the worker to management to the appropriate government agencies.
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