Returning to work – occupational therapists can help!

It’s not often that a really practical tool is published that works both as a guide to ‘what to do’ and as a marketing strategy for a profession. Today I want to introduce you to this guide to returning injured workers to work, developed by the Institute for Work and Health and two Canadian (Ontario to be precise) occupational therapy organisations.

The Institute for Work and Health is an independent, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conduct and share research with workers, labour, employers, clinicians and policy-makers to promote, protect and improve the health of working people. The Institute operates with the support of the Ontario Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB). In addition to this core funding, the Institute receives grants from funding agencies such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the US National Institutes of Health and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Anyway, back to the guide.  It was developed to ‘provide a basis for dialogue between occupational therapists and employers.’  It is based on a comprehensive research literature review completed by the Institute for Work & Health (Franche et al. 2005 & MacEachen et al. 2006), and Working Together was created by the occupational therapist educationally influential (OT EI) network, a network of occupational therapists with work practice experience, that have been identified by their peers as the informal networkers, teachers, mentors in workplace occupational therapy. The OT EI network was developed by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in partnership with the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT) and the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario (COTO).

It is divided into four parts, corresponding with the four phases of returning to work.

  1. Early contact
  2. Planning for the worker’s return to work
  3. Implementing a successful return to work
  4. Creating a RTW friendly workplace

For each phase, a basic principle is described, with details of these principles considered under the headings of ‘Employers Question’s’, ‘Research Evidence’, and ‘Occupational therapists’.

The things an occupational therapist can offer an employer are clearly outlined for each principle – something which is really useful for an employer who often doesn’t know what each different profession can do.

I don’t think there will be many arguments from other professions about ‘turf wars’ because the guideline doesn’t state that occupational therapists ‘must’ do these things, nor that ‘only’ occupational therapists can do these things.

What I like about it is its brevity – it’s very simple to read, not very long, and each page deals with a single principle for return to work.

I also like the bullet point approach to listing what the occupational therapist can help with.

While I’m an academic and I’d love to see the references in more detail – I am impressed that references to the original literature reviews are included.

The only things I would like to see more of are some space for ensuring contact details of a local occupational therapy service provider, and perhaps some endorsement from an employer and/or labour organisation group.

If you have a moment, it’s worth while heading over to the IWH website to look at their Products and Publications page – lots to see and use there!

Franche R-L, Cullen K, Clarke J, Irvin E, Sinclair S, Frank J. et al.Workplace-based return-to-work interventions: A systematic review of the quantitative literature. J Occup Rehabil. 2005. Vol. 15, no. 4, p. 607-631.
MacEachen E, Clarke J, Franche R-L, Irvin E. The process of return to work after injury: findings of a systematic review of qualitative studies. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environmental & Health 2006; 32(4): 257-269

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