How is early return to work structured?
Early return to work can be provided in different ways depending on the individual’s restrictions and work capacity. One option is a graduated return to work plan – slowly increasing hours while performing suitable duties (modified duties within their pre-injury role). Another option is alternate duties (duties in a different area of the business) which ensures the worker can continue to perform meaningful work and positively contribute within the workplace and team.
What are the first steps in designing an early return to work program?
It’s important to initiate early action to assess worker’s needs, establish capacity for work and set individualised and meaningful return to work goals.
If it’s predicted that the worker will require more than 4 weeks off, the recommendation from the Australian Rehabilitation Provider Association (ARPA) is that a referral should be made to an accredited workplace rehabilitation provider (WRP) for their expertise5. This referral can be made by the workplace while a claim is being assessed.
Alternatively, if an insurer is already involved, the worker can be referred by the insurer. Best practice is that referrals are made to WRPs within 3 days of the claim being triaged5.
ARPA describes a workplace rehabilitation provider as a “tertiary qualified health professional that specialises in the complex needs of workers and employers to achieve timely and sustainable return to work outcomes following injury or illness”6. This can include but is not limited to:
- Exercise Physiologists
- Occupational Therapists
- Rehabilitation and Vocational Counsellors
ARPA advocates for the referral to WRPs rather than other representatives in the sector because of their demonstrated professional knowledge, skills, and expertise as well as their impartiality and independence from the workplace. Evidence has shown that engaging in an early intervention program with a suitably qualified WRP can be an effective way to improve return to work outcomes5.
Benefits of engaging a workplace rehabilitation provider
Qualified WRPs use evidence-based techniques to support and advise workers. Their professional skills, experience and knowledge empower workers – helping them actively engage in their own rehabilitation and return to work program. This engagement sets them on the best pathway for recovery and early return to work.
WRPs are also trained to liaise and engage with insurers, employers, and other relevant treating parties – ensuring that return to work goals align with treatment goals, and that all parties are kept up to date on the progress of the injured worker.
The ROI of early intervention
In the US, a recent study showed that early workplace interventions reduced the number of employee sick days by 54 days7. Compared to traditional treatment, early intervention also improved the likelihood of a worker returning to work within 6 months – and improved this again by 50% over 12 months7.
Whilst there were increases in the cost of claims for the intervention group ($1,410 USD per employee)7, once they factored in the reduction in sick leave, improved productivity and reduced lost time of work it was clear that for every $1 spent there was a $7 return on investment8.
The study found that the three key factors driving these benefits were:
- early intervention
- a central case manager
- utilisation of a workplace rehabilitation provider7
What does this mean for today’s employer?
In a modern workplace, injuries do not always result in time off work. With the support of their employer and a qualified Workplace Rehabilitation Provider, many workers can return to work early, improving their physical and mental health and improving return to work outcomes.
Qualified Workplace Rehabilitation Providers should be engaged as part of the claims process during triage. Investing in early intervention with a workplace rehabilitation provider employers can reduce overall sick days, improve productivity, and improve return to work outcomes.
Lifeworks Health Services provides comprehensive return to work programs, with extensive experience working with employers, insurers and injured workers. Our Workplace Rehabilitation Providers are all professionally qualified and have at least 10 years’ clinical experience in their field, which means we can help get workers back to work faster, healthier and more efficiently!
Contact us for more information about how Lifeworks Health Services can work with your team.
- Workcover Queensland (2021, August). The business case for supporting injured workers. https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/84405/The-business-case-for-supporting-injured-workers.pdf
- Worksafe QLD (2021, September 23). Early Intervention. https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/rehabilitation-and-return-to-work/getting-back-to-work/planning-a-return-to-work/early-intervention
- Worksafe QLD (2020, September 7). Benefits of returning to work. https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/rehabilitation-and-return-to-work/getting-back-to-work/benefits-of-returning-to-work#:~:text=If%20you’re%20off%20work%20for%3A&text=45%20days%20%2D%2050%25%20chance%20of,chance%20of%20returning%20to%20work
- Worksafe QLD (2020, September 7). Suitable duties. https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/rehabilitation-and-return-to-work/getting-back-to-work/suitable-duties
- Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association (2021, November). The return on investment for workplace rehabilitation. https://www.arpa.org.au/documents/item/658
- Australian Rehabilitation Provider Association (n.d.). What is a workplace rehabilitation provider.https://www.arpa.org.au/benefits-of-workplace-rehab/what-is-a-workplace-rehabilitation-provider#:~:text=A%20workplace%20rehabilitation%20provider%20(WRP,outcomes%20following%20injury%20or%20illness.
- Arnetz et al (2003) Early workplace intervention for employees with musculoskeletal-related absenteeism: a prospective controlled intervention study. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 45(5):499-506. :https:// DOI:10.1097/01.jom.0000063628.37065.45