Finding a Match: How Ergonomics and Disability Management Work Together

In our most recent webinar, Jennifer McGillis summarized some of the connections between Ergonomics and Disability Management. We had some great questions asked, which are summarized below. We'll be continuing with our monthly webinars in 2015, so if you missed this one, please check back for our upcoming webinar lineup on our Events page.

We have PDAs at our facility, but I would guess that some of them are getting close to 10 years old. Do you think they need to be updated?

Typically we recommend that PDAs are updated, at minimum, once every 3 years to maintain accuracy. In addition, any time you make significant changes to a job (i.e. changing job requirements or adding new equipment) your PDA should be updated at that time. The goal of the 3 year review is to catch all the little things that get changed or modified in a job. Sometimes that 3 year review timeline might literally require a date update and other times it might require some actual changes, but even simply adding a revised date confirms that the PDA remains a valid representation of the job demands.

We don't really have a "RTW program" in place per se ... What is your suggestion for a starting point. It is just me in this role!

If it were me, I'd probably start by creating a written policy that documents what my process currently is – because you likely follow a process even though you haven't put it down on paper. This should include the basic steps and responsibilities for each stakeholder of the process. Although it's 'just you in this role', that doesn't mean you are the only one that has responsibilities in the process. Ideally, your RTW program is integrated into different management systems which means that although you are the point person, your supervisors might be responsible for helping to determine a suitable accommodation and your OHN might be responsible for developing the RTW plan using their knowledge of the injury and recovery processes.
After that I'd work on the organization piece of the process by doing things such as:

  • Preparing and/or printing forms to be used at the different stages (i.e. RTW Plan, FAF, WSIB Forms)
  • Creating a 'to do' checklist for your employees (and one for you too) so they know what they are required to do in the process. A tip is to set timelines for each action item (i.e. have doctor fill out FAF within 1 week of injury occurring).
  • Develop a communication plan that is clear about what is happening and who is responsible for which piece. Again, include as many measurable timelines as possible.

Remember to keep your program small and manageable. The more complex the program is, the more time you will spend managing it and that isn't always the most effective use of your time. As time goes on and you start to develop a rhythm and folks know what to expect in the process, that's the time to add and modify to take the program to the next level.

My barrier is RTW plans for concussions. I have had 3 in the past weeks. Any suggestions?

Concussions are certainly a challenge as they are complex in nature and have varied recovery times (some folks recover in days and others take much longer). In order to effectively manage this, you will likely need to have Cognitive Demands Assessments in place in addition to Physical Demands Assessments. The CDA's purpose is to document the cognitive requirements of the job including things like math skills, multi-tasking, communication, decision making, etc. Folks coming back from concussions, stress leave, brain injuries and so many other conditions will need to have their cognitive abilities matched to the cognitive demands of the job and a CDA can help you do that.

We have a RTW program in place right now, however we wait until we have direction from the doctor to begin the RTW process. Is there a way to start the RTW sooner?

Firstly, your current practice is not wrong. In fact, it's the process many of our clients use. RTW is reactive in nature since it occurs after an injury but you are right in assuming you don't need to wait until you get info from the doctor to begin.

I think I jokingly said in the webinar that I have a client whose goal is to make an offer of accommodation on day 0, which means they are sometimes sending employees to the hospital with a file that makes the offer. Although perhaps a more extreme approach than you are prepared to take on, they can do this because their process uses several proactive features including:

  • WSIB Standard Medical Precautions
  • PDAs completed proactively
  • Pre-selected jobs for different types of injuries

The WSIB Standard Medical Precautions provide information about what types of restrictions are common based on the employee's injury. For example, someone with a shoulder injury should not work above shoulder height, not do repetitive shoulder movement, lift limited weight and with limited frequency, etc. This information can be used in combination with a PDA to determine if the job being proposed is within the employee's abilities so RTW can begin. That said, you should always use the information provided in the FAF and not the general precautions whenever that data is available. The client I referred to above can really be timely in this process because they have essentially eliminated the decision making process about what jobs are suitable. They know that Jobs A, B and C are typically good for folks with shoulder injuries so they are prepared to offer one of those almost immediately after an incident.

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