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People Factors
Policies and procedures that help workers return after an injury

At a glance:
Employees are more likely to return to work if:
They think their workplace has a high standard of occupational health and safety
The workplace keeps employees well-informed of their rights and responsibilities in the return-to-work and the compensation process
Their workers' compensation claim is not disputed by their workplace
Perspectives:
Employee
Most workers are able to return to their normal job soon after a workplace injury. Returning to work as soon as possible will help you to recover more quickly.

Good relations with your workplace are important for your recovery. Try to maintain good communication with your employer, supervisor and workmates during your absence from work and throughout your workers' compensation claim.
Employer
After a work-related injury, workplace issues are a strong influence on whether an employee will return to work. Important factors include:

The employee's beliefs about the organisation's approach to safety at the workplace
The level of assistance provided by the employer during the compensation and return-to-work processes

Workplace issues influence return-to-work regardless of the background of the worker, or the nature of their injury.

Workers are more likely to return to work if their workplace has good safety policies and practices (including fixing faulty equipment promptly.) They are also more likely to return to work if there are good systems in place for providing information about workers' compensation, including the worker's rights and responsibilities. This is especially important as many employees do not feel they have a good understanding of the system.

Your relationship with the worker also influences their return-to-work outcomes. Happy workers described employers who sent them to treatment quickly, provided suitable modified duties until they were ready to resume their normal job and respected and cared for them during their return to work.
Treater
A worker's return-to-work outcomes are influence by the level of assistance they are given by their employer. This includes informing the worker about the compensation and return-to-work processes and providing appropriate modified duties where necessary.

Communicate with your patient and their employer about the possibility of temporary modification to work duties or hours and if possible visit the worksite to provide suggestions. The opinion of a medical professional can persuade an employer to be helpful and accommodating.
Insurer
In this study most participants who were dissatisfied with the workers' compensation system reported difficulty in obtaining information or assistance. Dissatisfied workers were off work for longer periods.

Claims managers can assist in the return-to-work process by:

Giving clear information about the employee's rights and responsibilities within the compensation system
Good communication, particularly if there is a dispute.
People are more likely to understand a difficult situation if the issues are explained and they are dealt with in a timely and respectful fashion.
Avoidance of delays, particularly regarding treatment.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
D. T. Kenney (1998).

Returning to work after workplace injury: Impact of worker and workplace factors. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counselling; 29(1):13-19.
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
In previous studies, the follow strategies have been found to help people to get back to work after an injury:

Developing a return-to-work policy
Appointing a return-to-work co-ordinator
Assessing employee fitness/function
Accommodating the injury in the workplace through modified duties or retraining
Good employer-employee relationships
Providing information about workplace injury
Providing information about how returning workers should be treated by managers and co-workers

The aim of this study was to identify personal and workplace factors that are important in helping an injured worker return to work.

The participants in the study were 407 health, manufacturing and retail workers in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). The participants had made a workers' compensation claim in NSW between 1 July 1991 and 31 December 1992, and had been off work for a week or more.

49 workers were selected for in-depth interviews, which tried to identify barriers to occupational rehabilitation
occupational rehabilitation
The process of helping a person back to the workforce after an injury or a medical condition.
 following a workplace injury. From these interviews, the researchers constructed a questionnaire, which was given to all the participants.

The questionnaire collected information regarding:

 Demographics
demographic
General information about people. e.g. age, sex, level of education, marital status, area of residence, income. A term for "population characteristics".
  (the employee's age, marital status, level of education, income etc.)
Type of injury
Characteristics of the job and workplace
Status of their workers' compensation claim
Personnel involved in managing of the injury at work
Other barriers and aids to return to work
Study Findings:
Most of the study participants worked full-time in a workplace with more than 20 employees. Most workers were happy with their job (83%), the company they worked for (73%) and the pay they received (67%). The most commonly reported injuries were to the

Back (35%)
Arms (23%)
Legs (19%)

The most common types of injuries were:

Strains (34%)
Dislocations (24%)

Injuries were believed to be caused by:

Physical stress
Falls/slips
Machinery

Most people didn't blame anyone for their injury (53%), but some blamed their employer (32%) and a few blamed their co-workers (5%), or themselves (2%).

More than half of the workers said their workplace had an occupational health and safety policy and staff employed for workplace safety (first aid officer, company doctor or safety committee). However only about a third of the workers thought their employers “always' provided a safe workplace and maintained equipment/machinery properly.

Returning to work

Of the workers in this study:

17% able to continue their regular work duties despite their injury
57% were temporarily unable to perform their regular duties, but were able to return to them at some point after the injury
16% were permanently unable to do at least some of their previous duties
9% were permanently unable to work

At the time of the questionnaire:

65% of the participants were employed full-time
11% were employed part-time
33% were not working
8% were receiving workers' compensation
5% were receiving a disability
disability
A condition or function that leaves a person unable to do tasks that most other people can do.
 pension
6% were receiving unemployment or sickness benefits
5% had no income
53% of study participants said their workplace had provided suitable duties on their return to work.

Factors that influenced return-to-work

The likelihood of returning to work was influenced by a worker's level of education and the type of injury they had. Employees with strains or overuse injuries were less likely to return to work than those with other injuries (e.g. burns, cuts, fractures
fracture
A cracked or broken bone.
 and internal conditions.) However these individual factors were only a small influence.

Workplace issues were found to influence return-to-work regardless of the worker's background and the nature of their injury.

Workplace influences included:

The employee's beliefs about the general safety of the workplace
The level of information provided to the worker by their employer to help with the compensation procedure

The researchers offered several explanations for this. Workers who are aware of health and safety practices might use the occupational rehabilitation
rehabilitation
The process of helping a person back to their former abilities and quality of life (or as close as possible) after injury or a medical condition.
 system more successfully. Employers who have safe workplaces might be more likely to manage injuries well and comply with the legal requirements of occupational rehabilitation. Employers and injured workers in safe workplaces might be more likely to have shared goals and therefore good relationships.

Whether the workers' compensation claim was disputed or not

A disputed claim is more likely if the worker's injury is more serious, if the worker has had trouble returning to work, or if medical opinions about the injury are conflicting. Disputed claims are a barrier to returning to work. Returning to work before the claim is settled is likely to reduce the cash settlement and disputes put both the worker and employer under great emotional stress.

Employees' satisfaction with the injury and return-to-work process

More workers made negative comments about their experiences (43%) than made positive comments (7%).

Most of the employees who were happy with the way their injury and return-to-work had been handled had only been temporarily disabled. They had been off work for a shorter time than those who were dissatisfied with the system.

Unhappy workers often commented on:

Difficulty obtaining information about rehabilitation procedures and their injury
Lack of assistance from union representatives or rehabilitation providers
Delays to treatment or claim
Feeling the system was uncaring

Happy workers described employers who:

Sent them to appropriate treatment quickly
Provided suitable modified duties until they were ready to resume their normal job
Respected and cared for them during their return to work.
Conclusions:
A workplace injury has physical, psychological
psychological
Refers to a person's perceptions, thought processes, emotions, personality and behaviour. Psychologists can treat mental health problems.
 and social consequences for the employee. Loss of income, decreased standard of living and self esteem and problems with family relationships can occur. The person's chances of returning to work after their injury are influenced by personal and workplace characteristics, the occupational rehabilitation system and the workers' compensation system.

In this study, two individual and three workplace factors were shown to affect an employee's likelihood of returning to work after a work-related injury.

Individual factors:

1. The worker's level of education
2. The type of injury (employees with overuse or strain
strain
Injury to a muscle in which the muscle fibres tear or become irritated as a result of overstretching or wrenching
 injuries were less likely to return to work)

Workplace factors:

1. How the worker perceived the occupational health and safety environment of the workplace
2. Whether the workplace had a good system for communicating information about workers' compensation procedures and entitlements
3. Whether the workers' compensation claim was disputed

Workers need to be informed about their rights and responsibilities in the workers' compensation system and the return to work process. This is important for their wellbeing, and to help them return to work. The employer's attitude to the worker also influences their return-to-work.

Whether a person is able to return to work after injury does not only depend on the severity of their injury. Rehabilitation professionals should take into account personal and workplace factors when planning treatment.
References:
No PubMed Abstract Available
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