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The role and responsibilities of an OSH professional in return to work

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

  1. 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.
  2. Promote the benefits of work (in a safe and healthy environment) to the wellbeing of workers, including those with health problems.
  3. Promote early contact with workers who are absent for a long period and maintain regular return-to- work meetings/interviews.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Tackle myths around return to work and rehabilitation – in particular, challenge people who use OSH as an excuse for not considering rehabilitation.
  7. Support managers by helping or training them to undertake assessments of workers who come back to work.
  8. 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. 
  9. Focus on what the worker can do and how barriers to their return to work can be removed.
  10. Assess whether measures put in place to help a worker return to work would also benefit other workers exposed to the same hazards.