A major return to work barrier, following a long absence due to an injury or health concern, is a worker’s ability to keep up with the physical demands of the role. Every job role has a unique footprint that requires different physical and cognitive capabilities.
To make sure that they’re ‘fit for work’ after a sustained period away, many employees are required to do a fitness for work assessment. This includes several medical assessments that help the employer and worker determine they will be able to complete the role safely.
But how can the worker be sure that they will pass the assessment?
Medical requirements are often expensive for the worker to complete, and can cause anxiety. Workers may have concerns about their future employment if they don’t pass the required tests.
A worker suffers an injury outside of work, at a weekend adventure that went horribly wrong. Imagine the worker is a parks and gardens general hand working in a physically demanding role, and one of the major requirements of their job role is to use a chain saw.
In addition to breaking their arm they develop long-term conditions – the first being adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), a condition that restricts the movement of the shoulder, and the other being complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This condition elevates pain as your body tries to regulate the source of the pain almost like a protective mechanism. How can the worker be sure that they will be ready to go back to work and use a chain saw when required?
Treadmill desks have become a topic of increased curiosity; they’re all over social media with millions of views, especially after the work from home culture kicked in.
Having fitness for work conversations can be confronting and challenging for both leaders and workers as they may involve questions of personal health (mental or physical), uncertain outcomes, sensitive topics and strong emotions. As challenging as they are, they are a vital tool for effective people management.
An accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) can help prepare for medical assessment. In this case, an exercise programme was designed that includes a range of movements for the upper limb and neck. There’s a focus on the stability of the upper limb specifically looking at the muscular recruitment patterns of the upper body. Desensitisation through mirror box therapy was also introduced to help calm down the nervous system. Lastly, usage of biomechanical analysis helped provide education on correct movement patterns. Through a six-week supervised exercise program, the worker progressed towards the requirements of the medical assessment.
At the initial assessment of the worker, some standard measurements were taken. However, for the purpose of the pending medical assessment, some key functional measures were taken.
The worker built towards these final medical requirements week by week attending one supervised session per week with their AEP, and two independent sessions in a gym-based environment weekly, combined with some at-home activation and stretching exercises.
It became clear in the first couple of weeks of the programme that the sticking point would be using a chain saw. Not only is there a repetitive loading element, but also a vibration component with the required sustained posture and upper limb movements.
The AEP began to target this movement with gym-based equipment including a vibration plate, through which the patient could start to practice. This continued to increase with volume and speed. The AEP filmed the weekly attempts of the chain saw task with the worker’s consent. This allowed the patient to see their weekly progress along with the increasing load and vibration frequency seen on the vibration plate.
In addition to developing safer working biomechanics, confidence began to grow, and with each session the likelihood of passing the medical increased. The result was a confident worker who would not only pass their medical, but also in their first attempt. Although the worker did not injure themselves in the course of their work, they were confident they would not aggravate their injury by returning to work. The programme gave them the confidence that they were fully recovered, and also strategies to better manage their physical conditioning for their job role.
Whether a job role is highly active or sitting down for prolonged period, everyone needs the confidence that they will be able to perform their role when returning from a period of absences. An AEP can provide a targeted programme to improve function and confidence for both worker and employer to seamlessly fit into their previous job role.
By Ingrid Hand (AEP ESSAM), Clinical Director for Absolute Balance. Ingrid specialises in exercise rehabilitation for workers’ compensation and motor vehicle accidents, she supports injured workers by understanding their unique needs to deliver a favourable outcome.
Local governments face a range of challenges when managing their people, avoiding injury and reducing workers’ compensation claims. Like many industries, the sector is managing an ageing workforce and an increase in chronic issues such as obesity, heart disease, and mental illness.
A major return to work barrier, following a long absence due to an injury or health concern, is a worker’s ability to keep up with the
physical demands of the role. Every job role has a unique footprint that requires different physical and cognitive capabilities.
Businesses worldwide are experiencing the effects of the highest inflation rate in a
generation. WA local governments need to consider inflationary pressures when valuing both their property and motor assets so that they can be confident that if disaster strikes, your protection will be adequate to appropriately respond.