In the latest of our series exploring core OSH topics and your role in ensuring risks are well managed, we focus on rehabilitation and the journey back to work.
1. Why put a return-to-work process in place?
After the past two years – where employees have been furloughed or advised to work from home – the importance of an effective return-to-work system and process has never been more valuable.
Even in pre-pandemic times, people could be away from work for many reasons. Because of this, organisations should have processes in place to support workers to return to work as soon as they are able.
At its simplest, OSH aims to prevent workers getting injured or made ill because of work. But it also has a vital role to play in supporting organisations and their staff in rehabilitation and return-to-work processes.
2. The six-step approach
IOSH describes six steps for organisations to follow when managing workplace sickness absence.
- Record sickness absence
- Keep in contact
- Plan and implement workplace controls or adjustment
- Make use of specialist advice or treatment
- Agree a return-to-work plan
- Coordinate the return to work.
Further detail and advice for supervisors and managers on the practicalities of each of these six steps can be found in the IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course. OSH professionals can be of particular support to organisations in step 3, by offering advice that helps to initiate workplace controls or adjustments.
3. Specialist support
In addition to OSH professionals, there are also specialists who can assist an organisation with its rehabilitation and return-to-work processes.
- Ergonomists: applying human sciences such as anatomy and physiology to the work environment
- Occupational health (OH) advisers: qualified in OH nursing or community public health
- Occupational hygienists: competent in anticipating, recognising, evaluating and advising on the control of chemical, biological or physical health hazards
- Occupational physicians: medical doctors specialising in OH
- Occupational therapists: specialists in physiotherapy or psychotherapy.
Even in pre-pandemic times, people could be away from work for many reasons
Organisations may find there is a need to contract out these services. However, it’s worth understanding that such investments could result in business benefits. For example, a forklift truck organisation that helped its experienced workers return to work earlier by investing in contracted physiotherapy services avoided staff absenteeism, the cost of which would have been four times greater than the services paid for.
4. IOSH return-to-work resources
IOSH has sponsored research into rehabilitation and the return to work. Our research into returning to work after cancer and common mental health disorders looks at the barriers and facilitators from different group perspectives
Returning to work after cancer
As many as 63,000 people with cancer in the UK today want to work but are unable to do so because they do not have the right support. It is also estimated that by 2030, an extra 130,000 people with cancer could return to work after treatment, with the right support (Healthy Working Lives, 2020). This research helps organisations provide that support.
Returning after common mental health disorders
Mental disorders such as anxiety, stress and depression are among the leading causes of disability worldwide and have a major impact on productivity and sickness absence. This research calls on employers to take greater account of a person’s needs when planning their return to work.
IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course
With 69% of line managers untrained in how to recognise poor mental health in their employees, this course is available as an online programme of study that provides practical advice and tools for managers to help create a healthy and productive place of work.
Research on rehabilitation and return to work
The International Social Security Association (ISSA) estimates that for every dollar invested on work reintegration and rehabilitation, employers realise an average return of more than three times the initial investment (ISSA, 2017).