The importance of well-developed Stay at Work (SAW) and Return to Work (RTW) programs and processes cannot be understated or overlooked. These programs not only fulfill legal obligations such as the duty to accommodate but also bring broader benefits to both the injured worker and the organization.

Workers can see a range in benefits when safe and meaningful work is offered such as improved health outcomes, engagement and teamwork reducing the risk of isolation. For an organization, having well developed processes and programs supporting worker re-integration can lead to improved productivity, workplace culture and a reduction in organizational costs related to lost time and/or claims.

Offering suitable modified work that aligns with the functional abilities of the injured or ill worker (as outlined by their healthcare provider) is critical in the SAW/RTW process. Key considerations in developing a SAW/RTW program and identifying suitable meaningful modified work include:

Clear Functional Abilities:

Obtain clear and objective functional abilities from the healthcare provider. A Functional Abilities Form (FAF) that includes physical, cognitive, and psychological limitations, will provide the necessary information for the RTW team to better inform suitable and meaningful modified work offers.

Job Demands:

Understanding the demands of a job is critical in being able to offer suitable modified work that aligns with the workers functional abilities. Having access to updated organizational Job Demands Descriptions (JDD) can facilitate this process. A JDD is a structured process designed to identify the physical, cognitive, and psychological demands of the essential duties of a job.

To enhance efficiencies in identifying suitable modified work, consider the development of an internal database that draws on the information within a JDD and can be filtered to match the injured/ill worker’s functional abilities.

Job Tasks & Location of Work:

Prioritization of modified work opportunities within the workers role and/or department benefit an injured worker as it can provide a sense of routine and familiarity as well as allow them to draw on support of colleagues. Search for modified work should preferably be as follows:

1. Work within own role and department, keep the worker completing familiar work tasks with their regular team and work environment.

2. Work within own role in different department, which assists the worker in doing work tasks they are familiar with.

3. Work within a different role, but in their regular department; this allows the worker to maintain a familiar environment and access to their team, while undertaking a role / task that isn’t their own.

4. Work within a different role and different department. This should be considered last as it removes the worker from their familiar environment, colleagues and job tasks.

Put a plan in place

Key elements to consider when developing a RTW program and plans:

  • Individualized: Modified work plans are not the same for all people, even when workers may be experiencing similar injuries, or have similar functional abilities. Always consider the individual and unique nature of accommodation.
  • Collaborative: Have the worker provide input into the plan and tasks they feel are within their functional abilities to promote inclusion and engagement.
  • Progression: Plans should be progressive and have an anticipated end date with regular check ins along the way.
  • Put the plan in writing: A documented plan provides clear understanding and expectations for all stakeholders including supervisors, managers, the worker, and members of the RTW team.

Prepare for the worker’s return:

An important element in worker satisfaction with RTW is how prepared the organization was to have them back – first impressions can go a long way in supporting the workers recovery!

Having a RTW checklist which outlines key elements and considerations can ensure a smooth transition for a worker’s RTW. Below are some thoughts that may be able to be incorporated:

  • Does the worker have access to the building / area where they will be working?
  • Does the worker have appropriate computer access?
  • Who will be welcoming them back to work?
  • Who can be a point of contact if concerns arise?
  • Are they familiar with where they are working or is a tour and team introductions needed?
  • Do they need to be updated regarding any organizational changes that happened during their absence (example, reporting structures, technology, processes, etc.)

When an organization is prepared with a RTW/SAW program that include these key elements, it will streamline accommodation processes and provide a supportive working environment while providing meaningful, early and safe return to work.

Written by Dawn Clinch and Laura Villeneuve, Health and Safety Consultants with PSHSA

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