5 Return-to-Work Strategies for the Best Path Back to Productivity
With thousands of moving parts, workers’ comp rules and regulations are at the mercy of individual state jurisdictions. Employers hiring across a number of states have to be on top of the laws in each to remain compliant and to keep their workers safe and healthy while on the job.
When injury does occur, however, early and aggressive intervention has the greatest potential to reduce time-loss and improve return-to-work for both the employer and employee.
Erica Fichter, senior vice president of medical management and accident & health at Broadspire, A Crawford Company, presented on this very topic at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, diving into how creative strategies can be utilized in reducing the frustration experienced by both the employer and employee from an extended absence from work.
For those unable to attend “Successful Return to Work Outcomes through Vocational Services,” here are some of the key takeaways from Fichter’s session.
Return-to-Work Strategies That Work
Fichter started off her presentation by highlighting Broadspire’s mission: Restoring and enhancing lives, businesses and communities.
“Today we’re focusing on lives,” she said.
“Not everyone is going to return to work in the same time, in the same manner. And we need to be cognizant of that. We have to think outside the box. … Everyone is unique and has a unique process.”
According to Fichter, 90% of workers with a disabling injury return to work in three months. Of those who remain out longer than three months, 32% of injured workers return in one year, and only 5% return in 2 years after a disabling injury.
“We have to think about how to get to that 90% mark,” said Fichter. “One way to do that is to begin on day one.”
Fichter described several innovative approaches a company can take to enhance their return-to-work program and keep workers safe. Here are five ways she explored:
1) Job Descriptions
“The aspects of a job must be known to bring a worker back to functionality,” said Fichter.
A thorough job description will answer several important questions: How much weight must be lifted, how often and for how long? Do employees lift objects from the floor? Is it to waist height or overhead? How far does an employee carry an object, and do they use the assistance of a lifting device?
2) A Biopsychosocial Model
“We treat the body, but we have to treat the mind as well,” Fichter said. Having a biopsychosocial approach enables the workers’ compensation team to understand the different aspects of an injured worker’s life and how they each impact recovery.
What if the injured worker was the primary breadwinner of their family, Fichter asked. What are they feeling now that they don’t have that option? How will that impact the claim and recovery time?
3) Transferable Skills Analysis
After an injury, there is a very real possibility that a worker may not be able to return to the job they held before.
“So what else can we do?” Fichter asked.
Conducting a transferable skills analysis can improve return-to-work by bringing a worker back into a position that better accommodates their skill level. Employers can analyze a worker’s current skills and current state of health and determine where they might be able to continue on as an employee.
4) Transitional Work Options
While transferable skills analyses have positive outcomes, sometimes a company does not have available job openings that meet an injured worker’s skill-set.
Transitional work enables employees to feel empowered and gets them back to work sooner.
However, Fichter reminded, “You don’t want to make transitional duty something like sitting and answering a telephone; it has to be meaningful work,” she said.
“It has to get that person energized again. Transitional duty acts as a readjustment period, because many have been out of work for some time and don’t have that routine. We have to help them re-engage with what it’s like to get back to work.”
Fichter stressed the importance of conducting ergonomic evaluations during the onboarding process.
As new employees join the team, professionals should sit with these workers to review training, movement and use of all equipment and procedures. That way, problem areas can be caught at the start and corrected before injury can even occur.
“With a successful return-to-work program in place, we can improve workplace safety and prevent injury; increase morale among the workers; reduce worker’s comp costs; and instill injured workers with a sense of well being.” &