Worker Recovery and Return to WorkPosted on by
Work-related disability is associated with many negative health and social outcomes including reduced quality of life, job loss, reduced lifetime income, injuries among family caregivers, and premature death. For example, a recent NIOSH-funded study found that workers who suffer serious injuries requiring days away from work are more likely to die sooner than workers with injuries requiring only medical treatment.
Other studies have shown that the chances of returning to work drop dramatically the longer the worker remains away from work. While more serious diagnoses are associated with longer periods off work, minor diagnoses can also lead to disability if the recovery and return-to-work processes are not properly managed.
We are interested in learning from you about resources related to worker recovery and helping them return-to-work. To start the discussion, we have listed some resources below and we welcome your suggestions, as well as input on the following questions.
- What evidence-based resources exist?
- How can best practices be shared?
- What specific research is needed?
Worker Recovery Resources:
Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC) POWER Initiative: The Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment (POWER) Initiative collected and analyzed data on the causes and consequences of frequent or severe injury and illness among Federal employees, and identified effective safety and health management programs. This includes resources on achieving successful return-to-work of injured employees:
Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHEs): These Washington State centers work with medical providers, employers, and injured workers in a community-based program. COHEs improve injured worker outcomes and reduce disability by training providers and coordinating cases.
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) Stay-at-Work / Return-to-Work: The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is a non-regulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities. Since 2013, ODEP has utilized a Community of Practice and policy work groups led by subject matter experts to guide their SAW/RTW work. Through this collaboration, ODEP continues to explore effective practices to inform policy recommendations targeting federal and state agencies, as well as the private sector. For example, one policy working group is focused on adapting the Washington State WC COHE program.
International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC): IAIABC is a not-for-profit trade association representing government agencies charged with the administration of workers’ compensation systems throughout the United States, Canada, and other nations and territories.
- Return-to-Work: A Foundational Approach to Return to Function: This paper authored by the Disability Management and Return-to-Work Committee of the IAIABC discusses the link between return to function and return-to-work as equally important in restoring a person to health.
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM): ACOEM represents more than 4,500 physicians and other health care professionals specializing in the field of occupational and environmental medicine.
- ACOEM Coding Initiative Guidance Statement: ACOEM supports changing the rules for documentation of care in workers’ compensation cases in order to provide reimbursement and other incentives for delivering care that adheres to best practices.
The Institute for Work & Health (IWH): The IWH is an independent, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conduct and share research that protects and improves the health of working people.
- Return-to-Work: The IWH conducts research on return-to-work as practiced by workplaces, workers’ compensation boards, insurance companies and rehabilitation providers. Return-to-work includes disability management and prevention, vocational rehabilitation, and work reintegration.
- Clinical Treatment: The IWH conducts research on evidence-based practice for health care in treating back pain, neck pain, chronic pain, upper extremity disorders, and other soft-tissue injuries. This includes studies on health-care delivery and policy.
- Compensation-Benefits (Canadian Provinces): The IWH has examined trends in workers’ compensation claims and benefits, their adequacy and equity, and their effects on workers.
- Measuring Health-Function: The IWH conducts research to measure worker health, function, and disability; predict the course and pattern of recovering from disability; and determine the prevalence of certain health conditions among workers.
Steve Wurzelbacher, PhD, is the Director of the NIOSH Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS)