Work can help us to keep physically and mentally fit. Failure to return to work (RTW) following a sickness absence has been linked to further poor health outcomes. It is recognised that Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders are a major issue when considering the human and economic cost. Pro-longed sickness absence can have a significant financial impact on employers, that; alongside bringing normality, financial stability, and improved health outcomes for the employee, make it even more important that employees return to work safely and quickly.
There are many obstacles when considering an RTW:
- Potential re-injury risk at work.
- The employees’ physical and mental condition.
- The impact of a RTW on organisational effectiveness.
- The physical demands of the job.
As Occupational Health Physiotherapists we, are well placed to help manage an employee’s RTW. When onsite with our customers, RTW planning and advising on ‘amended duties’ can make up a large proportion of our day-to-day tasks. As well as advising employees who have been absent from work, we also make specific recommendations for those employees within the workplace, who may be at risk of an MSK absence. Our customers often refer patients to us after receiving fit notes with “no lifting for 6 weeks” or “light duties only please”. It is our role to support both the employee and employer, ensuring the best possible outcome, as the GP writing the fit note may not be aware that the employee has access to Physiotherapy in the workplace.
A RTW is multifactorial, some employees may be fit to RTW on their normal hours and often we update our customers on a person’s ability to return to their substantive job role with no restrictions at all. It is important to remember, however, that 100% fitness is not a requirement for returning to work safely. In this instance, a ‘Phased Return to Work’ can be beneficial. In simple terms we would look to ask:
- Are Amended Duties required?
- Do they need an alteration to working hours?
Or do they need both?
Working onsite with our customers gives us specific knowledge of the requirements needed from the employee to undertake their ‘usual’ role. This helps us be specific when planning a ‘phased RTW’ or recommending adjusted duties. We can correctly assess if an employee is fit to return to work and provide ongoing support in the workplace such as ‘hands on’ physiotherapy treatment, ergonomic assessment, and review.
Any return-to-work plan or workplace adjustments must take into consideration numerous different factors regarding the employee concerned. Sano takes an individual approach to RTW plans which provide precise and definitive advice and guidance. Returning to work is not a ‘one size fits all’ matter.