Research to action: IWH guide helps solve RTW problems

For people who play a hands-on role in helping injured workers return to work, a new publication called Red Flags/Green Lights: A Guide to Identifying and Solving Return-to-Work Problems is available from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) to help you deal with potentially challenging cases.

Most injured workers return to their jobs successfully. But for those who don’t, this evidence-based guide offers advice on identifying and solving the problems that may be complicating their recovery and return to work (RTW). Produced with funding from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Research Advisory Council, the guide differs from others in that it largely tackles the “systems hurdles” that can impede a work-return.

Barriers to returning to work are often mundane and procedural, explains IWH Scientist Ellen MacEachen, the lead researcher on a study of complex compensation claims that gave rise to the guide. This guide teaches about RTW barriers beyond worker motivation and the nature of the injury.

The guide lists “red flags” and “green lights” within four domains of RTW practice: the workplace, vocational rehabilitation, health or medical management, and workers’ compensation. “Red flags” refer to warning signs that a worker may not be recovering or progressing through the workers’ compensation or RTW process as expected. These are based on real-life situations described by both injured workers and service providers during MacEachen’s original research. “Green lights” refer to suggested practices to address the “red flag” barriers. These were generated by experts during workshop sessions held across Ontario and funded by RAACWI.

MacEachen notes that many of the procedural problems surrounding return to work stem from poor communications and an assumption that workplaces are “models of harmony” and “always in compliance.” As a result, administrators don’t always have all the facts and may base decisions on incomplete pictures.

As well, the RTW process is not usually derailed by just one issue, MacEachen says. Usually three, four, five red flags go up, one on top of the other, and then there’s a problem. This kind of “piling on” of problems is made evident in the real-life case studies included in the guide.

Red Flags/Green Lights is now available free from the IWH website, but you are being asked to sign in first to download it. We are trying to track how our guides are being used to help us learn more about getting our information out, explains MacEachen. To download the guide, go to: www.iwh.on.ca/rtw-problems-guide.

Source: At Work, Issue 57, Summer 2009: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto