Enhancing Return-to-Work Success: The Crucial Role of Ergonomics

March 25, 2024

Introduction: Navigating the Landscape of Disability Management

In contemporary occupational health and safety management, Disability Management has emerged as a pivotal pillar, contributing significantly to the well-being of individuals within various industries. The recognition of the Certified Disability Management Professionals (CDMP) and Certified Return To Work Coordinators (CRTWC) designations, conferred by International Disability Management Standards Council (IDMSC), underscores the  importance of specialized expertise in this area. These designations focus on managing disabilities/injuries and support a smooth return to work or stay at work plan. Within this broader context, I will explore the impact of Ergonomics intervention on the efficacy of return-to-work (RTW) plans, highlighting the relationship between ergonomic considerations and the facilitation of successful reintegration into the workplace.

Crosshatch Pattern

The Symbiotic Relationship: Ergonomics and Return-to-Work (RTW) Plans

Ergonomists offer Disability Management specialists a suite of essential services, encompassing Office Ergonomics Assessment, Job Demands Analysis, Industrial Worksite Assessments, Preemployment Functional Capacity Evaluation, and Job Redesign, among others. These services are tailored to the specific industry and job requirements, acknowledging the unique nature of each workplace. The efficacy of a disability management plan hinges on the involvement of a proficient Ergonomist, ideally in Canada holding the designations of a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE) or an Associate Ergonomist (AE) bestowed by the esteemed Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE).

On-Site Assessments: Validating and Enhancing RTW Plans

In addition to the detailed return-to-work plans conventionally crafted by specialists in the field, there arises a crucial necessity for on-site assessments to validate and enhance the effectiveness of these plans. Personally, I navigate the realms of both ergonomics and return-to-work specialization, and through this dual perspective, I have observed the synergistic relationship between these disciplines, contributing significantly to the success of disability management plans. The ergonomics worksite assessment, conducted prior to, during, and after the return to work, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the prevention of exacerbation of the worker’s reported injury and facilitates the healing process.

Allow me to illustrate this symbiotic relationship through a compelling case study, showcasing instances where the expertise of an ergonomist has proven instrumental in achieving positive outcomes in the realm of disability management.

Tobi Durowoju speaking at workshop

Case Study: A Comprehensive Approach to Overcoming Physical Hurdles

A returning client expressed apprehensions about engaging in physically demanding tasks, including shoveling, jackhammering, and working with ladders due to heightened pain in the back and both scapular. Despite initial reservations, the client eventually agreed to perform these tasks with the condition of promptly reporting any pain experienced. In alignment with the guidelines set forth by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), the return-to-work specialist and the client’s supervisor clarified that some degree of pain might persist. However, objective reporting indicated that the client was capable of returning to full duties.

It is imperative to note that a Function Capacity Evaluation (FCE) may not comprehensively test all onsite demands. The FCE assesses an individual’s functional capacity concerning a job’s demands, covering aspects such as lifting, carrying, pushing/pulling, balance, fine motor skills, and cardiovascular tolerance. However, it may not evaluate factors like exposure to vibration, jarring, and the impact of cold weather on a worker.

To rectify previous inaccuracies in work limitations, a comprehensive Return-to-Work plan was formulated, specifically addressing the client’s concerns about potential reinjury. A scheduled Job Coaching session (focused on Ergonomics) facilitated by EWI Works was implemented to provide personalized injury prevention strategies. Subsequently, a thorough Onsite Ergonomics Assessment rooted in Job Demands Analysis was conducted. During the onsite assessment, the client experienced discomfort attributable to vibration and jarring, factors not previously identified in the Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE). Consequently, the ergonomist advised refraining from certain tasks until the client’s upper back fully recuperated. Modified duties, attuned to the client’s physical condition, were recommended. Moreover, a reassessment was advised to ascertain the underlying reasons for the persistent reports of discomfort.

This underscores the critical importance of an onsite ergonomics assessment. The subsequent implementation of these recommendations was duly acknowledged by the return-to-work specialist. Not only did it lead to the diagnosis of a previously undetected soft tissue injury, enabling the pursuit of appropriate treatment, but it also contributed to a more successful and tailored return-to-work plan. This case highlights the significance of addressing ergonomic concerns to prevent re-injury and emphasizes the proactive role of onsite assessments in ensuring the well-being of returning workers.

In conclusion, the marriage of Ergonomics and RTW plans is not just a collaboration; it’s a transformative alliance that ensures a holistic, clinical, and thoughtful approach to returning individuals to the workplace. By addressing ergonomic concerns and human factors, we pave the way for a seamless and effective return to work, contributing significantly to the well-being of individuals within the broader framework of occupational health and safety management. As we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of Disability Management, let us underscore the pivotal role of Ergonomics in shaping the success of return-to-work initiatives, ultimately fostering a healthier and more resilient workforce.