Workplace organizational and psychosocial factors associated with return-to-work interruption and reinjury among workers with permanent impairment

Publication type
Journal article
Sears JM, Schulman BA, Fulton-Kehoe D, Hogg-Johnson S
Date published
2021 Apr 01
Annals of Work Exposures and Health
Open Access?

OBJECTIVES: Roughly 10% of occupational injuries result in permanent impairment and a permanent partial disability (PPD) award. After initial return to work (RTW) following a work injury, many workers with permanent impairment face RTW interruption (breaks in ongoing employment due to reinjury, poor health, disability, lay-off, etc.). Most RTW and reinjury research has focused on worker-level risk factors, and less is known about contextual factors that may be amenable to workplace or workers' compensation (WC)-based interventions. The aim of this study was to identify modifiable organizational and psychosocial workplace factors associated with (i) RTW interruption and (ii) reinjury among workers with a permanent impairment. METHODS: This retrospective cohort study included WC claims data and survey data for 567 injured workers who RTW at least briefly after a work-related injury that resulted in permanent impairment. Workers were interviewed once by phone, 11-15 months after WC claim closure with a PPD award. Logistic regression models were used to estimate associations between each workplace factor of interest and each outcome, controlling for whole body impairment percentage, gender, age, nativity, educational level, State Fund versus self-insured WC coverage, employer size, union membership, industry sector, and employment duration of current/most recent job. RESULTS: Twelve percent of workers had been reinjured in their current or most recent job, 12% of workers were no longer working at the time of interview, and <1% of workers reported both outcomes. The most frequently reported reason for RTW interruption was impairment, disability, and/or pain from the previous work injury. Lower reported levels of safety climate, supervisor support, and ability to take time off work for personal/family matters were significantly associated with both RTW interruption and reinjury. Inadequate employer/health care provider communication, perceived stigmatization from supervisors and/or coworkers, and lower levels of coworker support were significantly associated with RTW interruption but not with reinjury. Discomfort with reporting an unsafe situation at work, absence of a health and safety committee, and higher job strain were significantly associated with reinjury, but not with RTW interruption. Inadequate safety training and lack of needed job accommodations were not significantly associated with either outcome. There were no notable or statistically significant interactions between workplace factors and degree of impairment, and no consistent direction of association. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides evidence that several potentially modifiable organizational and psychosocial factors are associated with safe and sustained RTW among injured workers with work-related permanent impairment. The lack of interaction between any of these workplace factors and degree of impairment suggests that these findings may be generalizable to all workers, and further suggests that workplace interventions based on these findings might be useful for both primary and secondary prevention. Though primary prevention is key, secondary prevention efforts to sustain RTW and prevent reinjury may reduce the considerable health, economic, and social burden of occupational injury and illness