Two key strategies are critical for return-to-work programs

In brief

  • Two strategies appear to be critical in the success of early workplace-based RTW program: a work accommodation offer and acceptance, and communication with heath-care providers about preventing re-injury or recurrence.

Why was this study done?

This study tested how early return-to-work strategies affected the length of time off work for more than 600 injured workers with low-back pain or upper extremity disorders. In a previous systematic review, these strategies had been shown to be effective in reducing the time that injured workers were away from their jobs.

How was the study done?

Researchers measured the impact of six early RTW strategies on work absences in 632 injured workers. These strategies were: a work accommodation offer and acceptance; contact between a health-care provider and the workplace; an ergonomic workplace visit; early contact with the worker by the workplace; advice from a health-care provider to the workplace; and the presence of a RTW coordinator. Researchers interviewed workers and used claims information from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

What did the researchers find?

Two RTW strategies were associated with shorter work absences: a work accommodation offer and acceptance; and advice from a health-care provider to the workplace on how to prevent a re-injury. Receiving an ergonomic visit was associated with shorter time on claims benefits. The researchers also found that, by six months after an injury, 69 per cent of Ontario workplaces made an accommodation offer to a worker, but only 84 per cent of workers accepted the offer.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The study benefited from the use of two sources of information: interviews with injured workers and claims data from the WSIB. Both sources confirmed the same results. However, the self-reported information from workers was not assessed for reliability.

Publication Information

Title: 

The impact of early workplace-based return-to-work strategies on work absences duration: a 6-month longitudinal study following an occupational musculoskeletal injury

Author(s): 

Franche R-L, Severin C, Hogg-Johnson S, Côté P, Vidmar M, Lee H

Journal: 

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2007: vol. 49, no. 9, pp. 960-974