22 December 2014 by Sandra Thomsen
Modified work, according to Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta, is temporary changes to regular job duties as a result of injury, which may include: changes to work tasks, environment, work load (hours or schedule), or equipment. It may also include work normally performed by others or specially designed job duties. Modified work has been cited to improve return to work outcomes by reducing a worker’s time away from work, providing a work rehabilitation opportunity through safe and realistic work duties, and reducing costs associated with a claim. However, for modified work to be successful it must include productive or meaningful duties, and be safe for the worker within their temporary work restrictions. Given my personal experiences with modified work, I must also add that it is also important to consider the personality of the worker.
I injured my back at work 8 years ago assisting a patient back to their bed after rehabilitation activities. The patient was fatigued and unable to assist with the transfer and collapsed as he lay down in the bed. I was also very fatigued, as I had already seen at least 10 patients that morning without any breaks. Unfortunately, by following through on this action, I developed a long-term injury. I felt obligated to provide the best care I could to my patients, despite my fatigue. This gives you important insight into my personality – I had difficulty saying no to patient care duties and respecting my limits. This would present some issues with return to work with this injury.
When it comes to providing and designing modified work the worker needs to be considered holistically; work restrictions, and personality strengths and weaknesses. With an employee who has difficulty accepting limitations, I would caution an employer from returning a worker to their original work environment with only changes to the amount of assistance available. The truth is, the worker may have difficulty working within their work restrictions, particularly when other mechanism or employees to provide assistance are not immediately available.
I, in fact, did reinjure my back as I found it profoundly challenging to let my patients struggle because I was not supposed to provide physical assistance. Furthermore, I also found it difficult to ask “I need your help” when I saw how hard my coworkers were already working. These events changed my life — I now have permanent work restrictions that do not allow me to provide hands on physical therapy.
I hope that sharing my personal story will help you to consider a worker as a whole person when developing a modified work program. Consider their work restrictions, but also their personality strengths and weakness in order to provide a program that will provide work rehab opportunities without putting the worker at risk.
If you have questions about this topic or others, feel free to email me at email@example.com.