We touched on modified work programs for injured workers briefly in a previous series of blog posts outlining requirements for different Workers' Compensation Boards across North America, but we felt that we could go a little more in depth on this particular topic.
Workers who have suffered workplace illnesses or injuries often find their abilities limited and medical restrictions are usually imposed by their physician to prevent further damage. While these may be short term as they wait for injuries to heal or health to return, some injuries may never fully heal, leaving the worker with long term or permanent limitations
Why is modified work important?
Modified work is beneficial not only to the worker, but also to your organization. Not only does it help you retain a trained and experienced worker, it also instills trust in your workforce that they are not expendable or replaceable. By accommodating workers after an injury, you are demonstrating that you see them as a valuable asset to the organization and are willing to help them when something goes wrong.
The key to creating a successful modified work plan is open communication not only with the worker, but also their doctor. They will be able to give you a better idea of what type of limitations to expect and what kind of modifications will best suit the worker's recovery.
While you're end game is to get the worker back to their pre-injury position, rushing the healing process could do more harm than good. It is important that the employer creates an environment in which the worker doesn't feel the need to exceed their limitations or take unnecessary risks that could hinder their recovery.
What kind of light duty work is acceptable for my worker?
Acceptable modified work must be safe for the worker, and allow them to contribute to the work environment. While there are a number of generic duties available, it is important to look closely at you workers current abilities and how they can best be applied to your specific workplace. Remember: the goal is to get your worker either back to their job, or to a comparable one.
If at all possible, you will want to return your worker to their own position, even if certain modifications need to be made for them. These modifications could include:
- More sitting/standing time
- Less lifting/bending
- Different hours
- A smaller workload (or lower quotas in a production setting)
If they are unable to perform the basic tasks at the core of their regular job, it may be necessary for the worker to be assigned a temporary or "transitional" position. This is normally a vacant position within the organization that meets the worker's medical restrictions.
- Inventory and order parts, supplies, and/or tools. Having knowledge of what supplies, tools and equipment are used on the job can be a huge asset when it comes to placing orders. Depending on the worker's injury, this task can be performed by walkthrough and inspection of the equipment or by having other workers compile a list and turning it in.
- Perform administrative tasks. There is never a shortage of work to be done in an office and most of these tasks are easily adaptable, making it a great choice for workers who have limited capabilities due to an injury. Whether they are answering phones, updating manuals, sorting and delivering mail or filing paperwork, they will be contributing to the workplace and their own progress.
- Do yard maintenance and light housekeeping duties. A tidy workplace not only makes a good impression, it prevents other accidents from happening. This kind of modified work might include picking up and disposing of garbage and/or recycling, as well as lawn/plant maintenance if they are able.
- Ensure emergency health and safety supplies are up to date and properly stocked. Part of keeping employees safe at work is to ensure that all fire extinguishers and alarms have been inspected, that all first aid boxes have been replenished with the appropriate supplies,
- Operate equipment and vehicles. Even if an injured worker isn't able to do manual labour in the workplace, they may still be able to operate some smaller equipment, such as forklifts, or take a company vehicle out to run company errands. This type of work should also include pre and post work inspections.
- Recertify or take additional training. Modified work is a great opportunity for workers to expand their knowledge base by taking courses that they are interested in. Not only does it help them develop personally, it can also benefit the company in the event by allowing you to hire internally and save new hire training costs.
These measures should be temporary, however there may be circumstances which prevent the worker from returning to their previous position. If you are unsure on how to proceed with your modified work plan, or aren't sure what to do in your particular situation, the Worker's Compensation Board or organization for your area can give you more information and advice on how to proceed.