Before OSH professionals give advice on return-to-work cases, they should ensure that they are acting within their competence. Where clinical judgments are needed, for example diagnosis or treatment, they should always get advice from a medical expert. An OSH professional can support good return-to-work practice by giving advice on risk assessments for workers.
10 point action plan for OSH professionals
- Don’t forget that prevention is best – include rehabilitation as part of a wider strategy on workers’ health and wellbeing. The aims of the strategy should be to tackle the causes of work-related ill health and injury, address problems before absence occurs and – through health promotion – encourage workers to take responsibility for their own health.
- Promote the benefits of work (in a safe and healthy environment) to the wellbeing of workers, including those with health problems.
- Promote early contact with workers who are absent for a long period and maintain regular return-to- work meetings/interviews.
- Put forward a cost–benefit–based argument for buying in OH advice, especially medical professionals or organisations that specialise in a certain area. They will have a better understanding of the individual’s condition and can advise on aids that may support their return to work.
- Suggest that workers with musculoskeletal disorders and mental ill- health are referred early for rehabilitation or help them to get medical treatment such as physiotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy to aid fast recovery.
- Tackle myths around return to work and rehabilitation – in particular, challenge people who use OSH as an excuse for not considering rehabilitation.
- Support managers by helping or training them to undertake assessments of workers who come back to work.
- Ensure that the assessments assess the individual, not the illness: don’t make assumptions about a worker’s capabilities based on perceptions of their health. In other words, take a holistic view and don’t focus on medical conditions.
- Focus on what the worker can do and how barriers to their return to work can be removed.
- Assess whether measures put in place to help a worker return to work would also benefit other workers exposed to the same hazards.