What’s the best way to manage musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace? According to a recent study, the best way to get a worker with an MSD back to work and keep him or her there is through a support return-to-work (RTW) program.
The study, “Predictors of Successful Work Role Functioning After Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery,” published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at 122 carpal tunnel cases, evaluating how everything from the type of work performed to the type of support the worker received upon returning to work affected the worker’s future success. Their findings: workers who were confident in their abilities to perform their tasks had the greatest success when returning to work. And that confidence was often the direct result of factors like having supportive workplace policies and practices.
The findings would come as little surprise to experts like Sheryl Ulin, Ph.D., CPE, at the University of Michigan’s Center for Ergonomics, who stresses the importance of well thought out RTW policies to benefit both worker and employer. Currently, it’s estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of all employers in the United States offer some sort of RTW option to their injured employees, and that percentage could climb as states like California now provide financial incentives for employers to get injured workers back on the job.
Legislation or not, Ulin sees benefits for everyone involved in RTW. “The longer somebody is off work, the harder it is to get them to return,” says Ulin. A 1996 study by Dr. Monica Galizzi and Dr. Leslie I. Boden back up Ulin’s assertion. Galizzi and Boden found that workers who returned to work within one month after their injuries had an unemployment rate of six percent a year later. Workers who remained off work for six months or longer had a 14 percent or higher unemployment rate after a year. Additionally, the researchers also found that workers who did not return to work with their former employers faced periods of unemployment that were two- to three-times as long as those for workers who returned to their old jobs or employers.
Successful RTW programs incorporate a combination of planning, cooperation, understanding, concessions, patience and time. And experts note that RTW is rarely a one-size-fits-all type of solution. Understanding each individual worker’s abilities, their job-related tasks and duties, and how all of these can affect the worker’s injury are just a few of the factors that contribute to the success or failure of RTW. To find out more about how to make RTW a success for worker and employer, read “Managing MSDs: Working Through Return-To-Work” in The Ergonomics ReportTM.
Source: The Ergonomics ReportTM