Environmental Health News

Return-to-Work Training Builds Supervisor Confidence

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Slides from the new supervisor training module on quickly and safely returning employees to work after an injury. Photo: Kate Sweeny, UW Creative.

Slides from the new supervisor training module on quickly and safely returning employees to work after an injury.

Photo:

Kate Sweeny, UW Creative

In about the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, a difficult task might become easier for healthcare supervisors at Harborview Medical Center. A newly developed 15-minute training module can help them manage workplace injuries and get employees back on the job quickly and safely.

“The highest number of people missing work due to injuries is in the university's medical centers,” said Assistant Professor June Spector, who led a small team in developing the module in collaboration with the UW Office of Risk Management and Harborview Medical Center. Spector is a researcher and a physician in our department's Occupational and Environmental Medicine Clinic at Harborview.

“Healthcare is tough work,” she explained. “Nurses, medical assistants, people moving patients tend to get injured pretty frequently.”

Getting back to work post injury is important for a myriad of reasons. A job with steady income is not only financial security for individuals and their families. It also gives people a belief in their self-worth, and it is often how people self-identify: “I'm a nurse. I take care of patients.” Studies have found injured workers with delayed return to work are at risk of permanent disability, with significant costs to the individual's financial independence and psycho-social health as well as to the workers' compensation system.

Slides from the new supervisor training module on quickly and safely returning employees to work after an injury. Photo: Kate Sweeny, UW Creative.

Supervisors can help ensure injuries get reported and workers get treated, and they can modify job responsibilities. But, according to a UW survey of supervisors, they may not feel confident in their ability to facilitate the injured employee's return to work or know where to locate resources that they or the employee might need.

Preliminary results suggest that the training is effective, said Spector. Pre- and post-module evaluations show that supervisors feel more confident with the process of bringing an injured employee back to work after the training.

The researchers will next compare injured employee leave records before and after the training, said Spector. They will look at the number of people out on disability due to injury, length of absence, and costs associated with the leave.

The UW hopes to adapt the training module for use across the university. Spector said that different scenarios and characters could be swapped out to match the needs of other units on campus, such as facility services—responsible for maintaining university buildings and grounds—where there are also high rates of missed work due to injury.

The project was funded by the Washington State Safety and Health Investment Projects (SHIP). Project Manager Michael Oberg, graduate student Lisa Hart, and Acting Instructor Nicholas Reul, who is a physician in the department's clinic, were also involved in the module's development and assessment.

Return to Autumn 2013 issue