Effective Return to Work (RTW) processes for injured or ill workersstand to benefit not only the workers themselves, but also employers, insurers and the broader community. The effectiveness of a RTW process is in turn largely dependent upon the inclusion of reliable, evidence-based RTW interventions.
A RTW intervention is a planned program, policy or strategy aimed at managing or supporting persons who are or have been away from work due to injury or illness and are looking to return.
RTW interventions can be initiated and run either through a compensation body (in which case they are described as "systems-based") or, moredirectly, through a workplace.
ISCRR has been involved in research looking at both workplace and systems-based RTW interventions, to improve their effectiveness in the future.
In 2011, ISCRR began a project with Canada's Institute of Work and Health (IWH), seeking to update a previous IWH review of workplace RTW interventions (broadening the review's scope to also include systems-based interventions). Thisproject was led by Professor Alex Collie and ProfessorBen Amick, and involved researchers from Australia, Canada, USA and Denmark.
The ISCRR Evidence Review Hub team has also worked closely with WorkSafe to identify research needs in this area and address them through comprehensive reviews of relevant research. Through this process, evidence reviews were completed investigating the following topics:
- The impact of RTW intervention of the speed of rate of recovery
- The effectiveness of mediation (by an independent party) for resolving psychological injury claims caused by a breakdown in workplace relationships and to assist claimants in RTW
- The capacity of motivational interviewing by non-clinicians to influence behaviour change in several work setting circumstances (including RTW)
- The most effective intervention/(s) for improving RTW outcomes in individuals with work-related mental health conditions, and
- Varied approaches to strategic RTW (presented as an annotated bibliography to be used by the Personal Injury Education Foundation .
Researchers from ISCRR's network have also assessed several existing RTW intervention programs coordinated by WorkSafe.
Led by Dr Richard Cooney from Monash's Department of Management, a team of researchers investigated WorkSafe's RTW Coordinator training program, to assess the program's effectiveness andidentify potential areas for improvement.
In 2014, ISCRR collaborated with the Monash Department of General Practice to evaluate the Health Benefits of Safe Work Program, a program run by WorkSafe and the TAC to educate and inform GPs about the benefits of returning injured or ill workers to the workplace as soon as it is safe to do so. This project was led by Professor Danielle Mazza from the Monash Department of General Practice, and followed on from Professor Mazza's preliminary research into GP attitudes to RTW.
Together, these research projects contribute to our understanding of factors surrounding successful RTW in Australia.
The Story So Far
These research projects have all delivered recommendations to WorkSafe on the topic of RTW intervention.
The systematic review of international RTW practice was concluded in 2014, with its findings supporting the benefits of workplace-based RTW interventions that are multi-faceted (work modifications, healthcare and service coordination elements).
Significantly, the review stresses that the effectiveness of interventionsis dependent upon very careful design and implementation. So, while theresearchers recommend that governments encourage workplaces to provide RTW interventions, they stress that these interventions must be supported by evidence.
The completed evidence reviews have also delivered some important findings:
- The review exploring the link between RTW activity and recovery speed found concrete evidence of RTW processes delivering health benefits
- The review of the role of mediation concluded that it has the potential to resolve psychological injury claims, particularly when supported by organisational commitment and facilitated by skilled, independent mediators
- The review of the use of motivational interviewing innon-clinical strategies indicated cautious optimism for its use in a RTW context
- The review investigating the effectiveness of RTW interventions for individuals with mental illness identified several interventions shown to improve RTW outcomes amongst individuals with adjustment disorder and depression
- The team's annotated bibliography remains a useful reference guide for resources related to strategic RTW.
Research into the Health Benefits of Safe Work Program is still ongoing.