Return-To-Work Programs

By implementing a return-to-work (RTW) program, you improve the safety and health of workers, increase productivity and promote quicker recovery while providing an excellent employee benefit.

RTW programs are one way to help injured workers ease back into their job; they provide workers with temporarily modified jobs that consider physical restrictions, skills, interests and capabilities. They also function as part of a disability management program.

Return-To-Work Program Objectives and Benefits
Many businesses recognize and use RTW programs. Although variations exist, they all share common characteristics.

Nearly all RTW programs focus on the following objectives:

  • address the physical, emotional, attitudinal and environmental factors that hinder the return-to-work process
  • facilitate temporary or permanent job reassignment or job restructuring
  • identify alternative employment, consisting of modified duties
  • reduce the number of workers’ compensation injuries within your organization
  • decrease the number of lost work days
  • increase employee morale and motivation to return to and remain at work
  • assist in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Effective RTW programs benefit employers by:

  • promoting good will and enhancing corporate image
  • allowing active participation of management in the employee’s recovery
  • reducing costs associated with replacing valuable skilled workers with temporary or replacement workers
  • maintaining an experienced work force
  • minimizing productivity slow-downs
  • improving employee/management relations
  • promoting employee morale and security
  • improving work ethic
  • decreasing potential of re-injury
  • uniting workers, supervisors and management

RTW programs benefit employees by:

  • providing a sense of security and stability
  • reinforcing management commitment to employee welfare
  • reinforcing a positive self-image to the injured worker
  • providing positive reinforcement to the injured worker while easing back into the workforce
  • encouraging normal working relationships with other employees
  • reinforcing a daily work habit

The Team Approach
An effective RTW program is enhanced by a strong team dedicated to getting the injured worker back to work. Together with your injured employee, the supervisor, the insurance company and medical personnel, your efforts get your worker back on the job.

The steps you can take to get your RTW program underway include:

  • establishing a policy statement detailing your management’s commitment, responsibility and support for the program
  • appointing a coordinator with strong communication skills. The coordinator represents your company and acts as liaison between the managing supervisor and employee, the labor representative, the insurance company and the physician. Active communication reaffirms the employee’s value to the company, prompting a timely return to work.
  • developing position descriptions that identify essential job functions. This identifies those jobs performed by able-bodied employees that can be modified to accommodate disabled workers.
  • developing a task inventory that catalogs the individual tasks that could fill the work day for an injured worker. The task inventory enables the supervisor to quickly identify and combine many tasks to fill up an injured employee’s allowed work time. Change assignments as your employee’s condition improves.
  • orienting and training your employees and management team on the elements of the RTW program, including a review of the applicable workers’ compensation system being employed, management commitment, position descriptions and identification of standard and modified job tasks.
  • using hazard identification and controls to detect loss exposures which, when corrected, reduce the likelihood of employee injury or illness. The objectives of such a program are to maintain a safe and healthful work environment, reduce or eliminate the risks of injury and maintain operational profitability for the employees and company.
  • setting a positive tone for employees who come into daily contact with the returning worker. The injured worker needs to feel wanted and secure; a positive psychological state is tremendously important at this stage in the worker’s recovery.

Your RTW program requires the cooperation of others, too. For instance:

  • Your insurance company:
    • maintains active verbal and written communication with you and the disabled worker
    • answers benefits questions
    • provides loss control services such as industrial hygiene and ergonomics evaluations, job hazard analysis, loss control policy, program review and employee/supervisor safety training
  • The treating physician reviews, evaluates, documents and treats your employee’s disability. The physician needs access to your position descriptions to review current and modified job functions and to recommend additional modifications and work restrictions where warranted.
  • Your injured employee has a responsibility to report the injury immediately to a supervisor, complete all paperwork according to company policies, follow the physician’s directions and maintain contact with you to provide health updates.

Return-To-Work Offer, Medical Limitations and Modified Duties
Your company’s return-to-work offer should describe the temporary work conditions and outline expectations for your employee and supervisor. The offer can be made by mail or phone and the employee can start right away. Follow up with a letter.

The employee’s physician must approve, in writing, the modified duty. This can be done after the employee starts the assignment. Make the physician aware of your company’s policy regarding the RTW program and the degree of accommodation your company can make. Discuss the matter with the physician before a return-to-work evaluation form gets completed. The specific limitations regarding lifting, bending, standing or contact with various substances needs to be identified by the physician. Supervisors must understand and implement the limitations when your employee returns to work.

Your injured employee may return to:

  • modified work: an existing job that is not as physically taxing or demanding as the employee’s normal job
  • restricted work: the employee’s normal job, with restrictions assigned by the physician 
  • modified duty or total accommodation: a specifically created position that accommodates the injured employee’s restrictions

Job modifications and accommodations should meet the restrictions recommended by the treating physician. It may involve changes in training, tools, machine design, workstation design or work procedures.

The following are some simple, yet effective, ways to implement job modifications:

  • minor workstation modifications – simplify the workflow process and eliminate unessential features
  • job task redesign – rearrange task sequence, eliminate tasks or distribute them to more than one worker
  • ergonomic or physical accommodations – provide adjustable chairs, hydraulic pallets, clamping devices and ergonomic or electric tools
  • environmental accommodations – rotate workers to limit exposure to repetitive trauma

The First Days Back
Visit your employee on the first day back to give encouragement and offer extra help required at this critical juncture. Do your best to make sure that employees who return to work do not suffer a recurrence or relapse the first few days back on the job. Communicate daily to ensure the employee is comfortable with the assigned position, and make modifications to the job if needed. You can help your employees ease back into the swing of things by starting back to work on a schedule recommended by the treating physician.

Contact Us
Cincinnati’s loss control services are free to our policyholders. Let us tailor a loss control program for your business. For more information, or to schedule a meeting with a Cincinnati loss control representative, please contact your local independent agent representing Cincinnati.

Our loss control service is advisory only. We assume no responsibility for management or control of customer loss control activities or for implementation of recommended corrective measures. These materials were gathered from trade services and public information. We have not tried to identify all exposures. We do not warrant that this information is consistent with Cincinnati underwriting guidelines or with any federal, state or local law, regulation or ordinance.

All information reprinted with permission of Insurance Services Offices Inc.; Engineering and Safety, Copyright 2008.

For information, quotes, policy or loss control service, please contact your local independent agent representing The Cincinnati Insurance Companies. “The Cincinnati Insurance Companies” and “Cincinnati” refer to member companies of the insurer group providing property and casualty coverages through ?The Cincinnati Insurance Company or one of its wholly owned subsidiaries – ?The Cincinnati Indemnity Company, ?The Cincinnati Casualty Company or ?The Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Insurance Company – and life and disability income insurance and annuities through ?The Cincinnati Life Insurance Company. Each insurer has sole financial responsibility for its own products. Not all subsidiaries operate in all states. 6200 S. Gilmore Road, Fairfield, OH 45014-5141.

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