Over the last three years, there has been a rise in the number of working days lost due to injury, which is costing businesses in the UK millions of pounds. Add to this the increased cost of accidents in the workplace since the introduction of new sentencing guidelines on 1st February 2016, and workplace injuries become a serious problem for many organisations, particularly those where these costs could be the difference between staying in business or going bankrupt.
According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) data, days lost due to injury have seen a 36% increase since 2014/15, from 4.073 million to 5.532 million. While fines associated with breaches in health and safety legislation have risen by 80%, from £38.8 million in 2015/16 to £69.9 million in 2016/17.
While it’s important that employers do everything they should to reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace, it’s also valuable for them to properly manage the return of an injured worker to reduce the chance of them requiring further absences from work. There are a number of ways that employers can support an employee’s ongoing rehabilitation when they return to work – we outline these below.
Why is rehabilitation important in the workplace?
For employers, a worker’s injury, particularly if it results in long-term absence, can result in losing the skills of a valuable employee, a reduction in productivity and extra expense if they’re required to find and hire replacement staff as well as pay sick pay.
Implementing a rehabilitation programme to help employees return to work quickly and safely will reduce their short-term pain and suffering and minimise or eliminate long-term disabilities. Having a well-managed rehabilitation programme will more or less pay for itself as it can reduce the cost of compensation claims, while ensuring you adhere to disability and equality legislation.
The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said: “The longer an employee is off work, the less likely they are to return. For example, after six months’ absence with back pain, there’s only a 50% chance of an employee coming back to work. That’s why it’s important to begin the process of rehabilitation early, so that employees can return to work in a suitable role, regain confidence and motivation, maintain good relationships with their managers and colleagues, and avoid financial hardship.”
Ensuring good practice
To ensure a rehabilitation programme is as efficient as possible, employers should ensure:
- There is a clear and up-to-date policy on rehabilitation, which is part of managing sickness absence and defines roles, responsibilities and expectations
- Day-to-day absence is managed by line managers and that they are regularly in contact with absent employees
- Managers speak to employees who are thinking of returning to work after an injury to assess what the company can do to help their return to work and find out if anything is preventing them from coming back
- Employers are seen by an occupational health adviser to assess their ability to do specific tasks and discuss the measures that have been proposed to help with recovery
- Any adjustments to the workplace are made or specialist equipment is introduced to allow the returning employee to be able to carry out their duties
- Once an employee has returned to work, their progress should be regularly monitored by their line manager. This also allows time for employers to discuss any concerns they may have
Due to the wide variety of injuries, each employee’s rehabilitation will differ. It’s important that they’re flexible to be able to cater to their specific needs and capabilities – for instance, by allowing a phased return, reducing responsibilities and granting special conditions – to ensure they return to work safely.