Prevention Link is a province-wide initiative with a mission to create safe workspaces where injured workers are reintroduced through effective programs. Executive Director Rob Halpin at Prevention Link discusses the importance of reinstating an injured worker safely and therapeutically.

Mediaplanet: When did it become apparent that post-injury implementation services were necessary?

Rob Halpin: We have known for more than 25 years that a comprehensive disability prevention program, designed to produce sustainable outcomes for both injured workers and employers, must include effective and therapeutic return-to-work (RTW) strategies or secondary prevention principles.

In addition to investing in primary prevention, organizations that get it right also recognize the benefits of accommodating their workers back to their pre-injury job, when it is safe to do so and where consideration for the rehabilitation of the injured worker is considered a priority. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too. 

MP: Are companies taking the necessary steps to properly reintroduce injured workers back into their jobs?

RH: The short answer is that some companies do. Unfortunately, many fall short in their efforts. When injured workers are accommodated in their disability or impairment and return to meaningful work, the benefits for all parties are well documented.

When properly implemented, secondary prevention principles improve injured workers’ ability to access the services they require to assist in their recovery and improve their personal RTW plan and outcomes. A comprehensive secondary prevention program helps employers by developing a workplace program that considers the needs of the employer and develops champions to inspire safety and RTW improvements, resolve disputes, and realize cost savings. All workplace parties benefit by promoting a safer and more accommodating workplace.

MP: How can employers help reintroduce these individuals back to their jobs?

RH: First and foremost, employers must involve the injured worker in the return-to-work process. When workers are represented by a union, it is important to ensure the union is also involved. Injured workers often know best what tasks they can safely complete, and the tasks they are unable to do because of their injury. The most effective RTW plans consider accommodations on an individual basis. As a best practice, the employer, with the assistance of the injured worker, should identify the tasks that are barriers to participation, and then seek to remove those specific barriers. Often, employers are simply unaware of their obligations under the law. Employers must be aware of their duty to accommodate persons with disabilities in both the procedural and substantive aspects. For example, it is essential to understand and have familiarity with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability.

MP: What long-term effects does improper re-introduction have on the employee?

RH: Top of the list would have to be the risk of re-injury. If workers are forced back to work too soon, before they are physically able or mentally prepared to return to work, the long-term effects can be devastating.

Many injured workers suffer from depression and anxiety. This may be a result of their injury, their treatment, their experience navigating the compensation system, or the manner their work reintegration was handled. Stigma and a general lack of mental health awareness in all workplace parties can exacerbate an already stressful situation for injured workers and their co-workers. Using an incident of occupational injury, illness, or disease to connect with and better inform an organization’s primary prevention efforts is the logical next best step.

MP: What long-term effects does this improper re-introduction have on the company?

RH: If the RTW strategy is not handled correctly, in addition to the unnecessary health and safety risk to employees, the financial costs can quickly skyrocket. There are short-term costs associated with the re-injury of workers who were not effectively accommodated in their return to work. Compensation premiums will likely increase, and there are costs associated with training other employees to cover the work of the injured worker. In addition to the costs associated with productivity loss, or the costs incurred to resolve complaint outcomes (union grievances, human rights complaints, and legal fees), it is much more cost effective to plan for prevention. 

Often, the simplest solution to accommodate workers back to their pre-injury job can be implemented with minimal expense. Even when at first glance the cost of accommodating a worker appears to be sizeable, when measured against the cost increases in short-term disability or worker’s compensation premiums, it is typically the cheaper alternative. It’s also the law.

MP: What unique services does Prevention Link offer that can assist both companies and employees?

RH: Prevention Link’s training, mentoring, and advisory services are essential avenues for workers, unions, and employers wishing to engage in cost effective, collaborative, and results-based outcomes. Prevention Link acts as a mediator when workplace parties have a difficult time reaching agreements related to accommodation, health and safety, or return-to-work.
Some of Prevention Link’s most popular training for workplace parties are centred on principles of accommodation, disability prevention strategies, whole person considerations, and occupational mental health and illness awareness. In fact, we have more than 30 courses designed to improve the knowledge transfer and build a culture of safety in your workplace. 

In addition to our comprehensive training, we can assist your organization in developing an effective RTW policy and program that includes disability prevention best practices, roles and responsibilities, the identification and removal of barriers to participation, as well as strategies to overcome attitudinal barriers. Our unique RTW Five Step Praxis will assist your organization in understanding where the gaps in your prevention plan exist and how to fix them. Our services are completely customizable and workplace specific.

For more information, visit www.preventionlink.ca.