By Shelly Dauphinee
Vice-President of Claims Management and Rehabilitation, WorkSafeNB
Safe and fulfilling work is good for us. It helps form our confidence, leads to lasting friendships and helps us feel valued. Work also builds our economy – fostering growth, innovation and prosperity.
To have a strong workforce, we need a strong return-to-work (RTW) culture.
When a worker incurs an injury or illness of a personal nature, such as non-work-related cancer, supervisors and managers rally behind them. They contact them by phone or in person to express empathy and offer support.
Co-workers, too, reach out to the worker – they help keep them connected, inviting them to workplace functions, such as social get-togethers. They may offer to make meals or visit them at home.
Any significant injury or illness turns a worker’s world upside-down – and a workplace injury or illness is no different. This is a time when workers need their workplace the most.
Last fall, about 70 New Brunswick employers – many CEOs – met at our Health and Safety Leadership Forum in Fredericton to discuss how they can support one another in both prevention and worker recovery efforts following a workplace injury. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce was on the employer advisory committee for the event.
Employers play a critical role in worker recovery. They get the wheels in motion. And the one, most important thing employers can do for injured workers is to keep them at work.
This starts with an effective RTW program – one that’s clearly communicated to staff. Everyone knows what to do when a workplace injury or illness happens. There’s no delay in accommodation.
The health benefits of ongoing workplace connection and early and safe RTW are overwhelming.
Choosing Wisely, a program developed by Canadian medical organizations, sums up the benefits for workers:
“There is substantial evidence to support the positive link between work and health (physical, mental and social health). … Absence from work contributes to declining health, slower recovery times, and longer duration of disability. Maintaining and restoring working capacity is an important function of health services which improves function and can also impact upon recovery and prognosis. Supporting unnecessary restrictions or total disability (absence from work) creates disability, which, in turn, negatively impacts upon health.”
Employers also benefit from a more engaged workforce and savings in replacement and training costs.
But it’s not just workers and employers who benefit and have a role. WorkSafeNB is working with the medical community to help raise awareness and encourage a focus on abilities – not restrictions – when helping patients ill or injured from work. The New Brunswick Medical Society has been integral, helping us develop tools.
Early and safe RTW means improved health outcomes, which leads to reduced demand and costs in the health care system.
WorkSafeNB is here to help. We’re developing RTW plans with workers and employers as soon as a claim is accepted. This summer, we’ll also publish an interactive guide with sample templates to help businesses – small and large – in the RTW process.
Workplace accommodation is part of treatment. We need everyone to ask: How can we keep employees working safely in the workplace?
Modifying duties can be as simple as removing certain tasks, allowing more time for other tasks, using technology or tools to help the worker stay safe and comfortable, or reducing hours. Even one hour a day keeps a worker connected to the workplace, in familiar surroundings near colleagues.
Laurie Hutchings was a cook at the Kingsway Care Centre in Quispamsis when she experienced a repetitive injury on her wrist and needed surgery.
With support from her employer and health-care providers, Laurie did a gradual return to work.
Kingsway helped her throughout the process with flexibility and caring support.
“Someone was there to support me, and I was able to get back into the swing of things right away,” she said. “I’m very grateful to be able to be productive at work again.”
This is what early and safe RTW is all about – a team of people gathering around the worker when they most need it.
WorkSafeNB is here to help guide you along. You can reach us at 1 800 222-9775.
Safe and early return to work following a workplace injury or illness is good for workers and employers. Even working one hour per day of light duties can help a worker feel connected and supported by the workplace. Employers benefit from cost savings in replacement and training. Credit: WorkSafeNB photo