In last month's article, we explained how lost workdays cost employers the most money in terms of future premiums. With so much at stake-both in productivity and workers' compensation costs-it's imperative that employers return injured workers to work in a timely manner after injury.
Consider a couple of interesting facts:
A worker with a work-related injury who's off work for six months has a less than 50 percent chance of ever returning. This gets lower as time passes.
Work-related injuries requiring surgery result in about six times longer off work for the same surgery that's non-work-related.
The challenge is to get workers back to work if they aren't able to perform at full duty. Modified duty-or "light duty"-is used to transition the worker back to some level of productivity. Modified duty takes many forms, but basically it's performing essential, but less physically demanding, tasks for the company. An injured worker who usually loads semis might sweep the same trailers with the physician's permission. The clerical worker with carpal tunnel might answer phones instead of typing.
There are many issues regarding modified duty. First is company policy. It's highly recommended that companies have a written modified duty policy. This demonstrates returning an injured worker to alternate work is neither a discriminatory nor punitive practice. Second is physician cooperation in allowing modified duty. Some don't trust employers to follow their instruction; others don't understand the job demands or the concept of modified duty and fear being sued for malpractice. The physician is trained to be a patient advocate-not a worker or employer advocate. Often, physicians not trained in occupational medicine use only the worker's description of work demands or perception of whether he or she can work instead of objective information from an exam or the employer.
Then comes the question, especially for the trades: What can my injured worker do on light duty? Many contractors have expressed this concern. Some companies are taking a new and proactive step for the companies, workers, and community. They donate the services of workers who can't otherwise perform in a physically demanding environment to charities and other volunteer organizations. Not-for-profit organizations often welcome a person to answer phones, stuff envelopes, distribute meals to its clients, etc.
Other modified duty assignments employers have workers perform include:
Answering phones/clerical tasks.
Completing safety training or performing safety surveys for the company.
Performing only the non-physical portions of their regular duty-product inspection for quality control, for example.
Delivering products but not unloading them.
Monitoring traffic at a company's workplace.
When in doubt, use your occupational health provider to guide your options. They're accustomed to assisting employers find work that matches the worker's abilities. IBI