Workers' Compensation Safety Board of Nova Scotia

Your Return-to-Work Program

A return-to-work program is simply a plan to help injured workers return to productive employment as soon as it’s safe to do so. In fact, getting workers back on the job is an important part of their recovery process. 

The key to a successful return-to-work program is strong leadership and guidance from the employer representative (e.g. RTW Coordinator, OHS Manager, HR Manager).  This, coupled with a strong collaboration between the injured worker and all return-to-work partners, will ensure the program's success.

To accomplish this, WCB Nova Scotia has developed building blocks for establishing, evaluating and strengthening a return-to-work program. We call these building blocks the eight P’s of building a successful return-to-work program

Prevent the Injury

When you prevent an injury from happening in your workplace, you also prevent the human suffering, financial loss and business disruption that go along with that injury.

Remember – the best return-to-work program is the one you never have to use.

Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility. Preventing injuries and keeping workers safe depends on two important factors:

  • An active safety program that identifies and controls hazards in your workplace. 
  • Workers armed with the knowledge to work safely, recognize hazards and report them immediately to a supervisor or the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

Both these requirements need to be developed within your organization and continually monitored and evaluated. Step-by-step instructions for developing an effective and sustainable health and safety program are outlined in WCB Nova Scotia's Preventing Workplace Injuries Resource Manual. Additional injury prevention resources are available at worksafeforlife.ca.

Partners and Responsibilities

Creating a successful return-to-work program requires a team effort. Strong partnerships must be at the heart of the program, and each partner must have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. When all partners work together and share their knowledge and expertise, the return-to-work program will run smoothly and efficiently.

Return-to-work partners include:

  • Workers 
  • WCB case worker(s) and case management team 
  • Relationship manager and WCB consultant 
  • Health care providers 
  • Union representatives (if applicable)

It can be beneficial for workplaces to establish a working relationship with a local, WCB-approved Tiered Services Provider (our Service Provider Directory lists all of our approved services providers).  As part of this relationship building, the provider may visit the workplace to learn about the jobs performed by workers and create/share a job demands library.  A Tiered Services Provider can also help identify risks that could lead to an injury, as well as transitional duties an injured worker can perform during recovery.  Establishing a strong relationship with a Tiered Services Provider can save time and money if an injury occurs at the workplace.

Each return-to-work partner, including you, should be aware of their workplace safety and return-to-work responsibilities 

Point Person (Return-to-Work Coordinator)

A point person, also known as a return-to-work coordinator, manages the return-to-work process by coordinating with the partners, regularly monitoring the status of each claim and following up with workers.

SELECTING A RETURN-TO-WORK COORDINATOR

It’s important to attach a name and a face to the company’s return-to-work program. This person will be the driving force behind the day-to-day functions of the program. From the first contact with an injured worker, to meeting with the WCB, health care provider, co-workers and family members, the return-to-work coordinator facilitates a safe and timely return-to-work process.

The coordinator should be objective and have the respect of co-workers, union officials and management. They should have a comprehensive knowledge of the diversity of jobs in the workplace and their physical demands. They must also have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, be able to deal with conflict and work effectively in a collaborative environment.

It’s not necessary to create a new position to fill the role of the return-to-work coordinator. For many employers, it’s more practical to appoint a senior line manager, human resources representative or someone in a similar position to coordinate return-to-work management activities. It’s important to remember that the needs of each workplace will vary depending on its size.

Policy

One of the coordinator’s first tasks will be to help develop a return-to-work policy. The policy states your organization’s commitment, expectations and responsibilities for promoting safe and timely return to work. Formalizing a policy and committing it to paper ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding the return-to-work program in your organization.

Procedures

Return-to-work procedures standardize a company’s return-to-work approach by outlining clear and easy-to follow steps for helping an injured worker get back to their job as soon as it is safe to do so.

Like the company’s return-to-work policy, all workers should be familiar with the procedures. They should be part of the orientation program for new workers, and existing workers should be trained on the procedures, signing off to show they know and understand what will happen if a workplace injury occurs.

Establishing return-to-work procedures and communicating them to all members of your organization will ensure everyone understands their role and knows what to expect in the event of an injury. return-to-work procedures will also be important if a conflict arises regarding a claim.

Plan Transitional Duties

When an injury occurs, the goal for both the workplace and the worker is to get things back to the way they were before the injury. This is where transitional duties come in.

Transitional duties are any temporary changes to the worker’s job tasks that align with their functional abilities – what the worker is able to do. If the worker is unable to immediately return to their original job, providing transitional duties will help them recover, contribute to valuable work and reduce or eliminate the claims costs associated with lost time from work.

Planning transitional duties is the process of determining work tasks that can be provided to an injured worker during their recovery. The physical demands of the job tasks must be known and must not exceed the physical ability of the worker.

Transitional duties must be meaningful, productive and within the injured worker’s skills and abilities. When a worker returns to transitional duties, it’s the employer’s responsibility to work with them to progressively increase duties as their ability improves. Remember – the transitional assignment is intended to be temporary.

Transitional duties should be as closely related to the original job as possible given the worker’s restrictions, and the transitional assignment should be short-term.  A date to return to regular duties should be clearly determined at the outset based on when the worker is physically able to return to their original job.

Promote your Return-to-Work Program

A return-to-work coordinator is chosen, policy and procedures are developed, the physical demands of the jobs in the organization have been identified and transitional duties for injured workers are planned.

Now it’s time to promote the return-to-work message across the organization. After all, a program can only work if it is known and understood by the workforce.

Here are some tips for getting the word out:

  • Face-to-face meetings are the best way to deliver information about new programs. Hold staff meetings to outline the company’s approach to return to work, and ensure the procedures are known and understood. This sends a strong message of commitment.
  • Together with your injury prevention message, make return to work part of every orientation. Providing an information package to address concerns about what happens if an injury occurs will reassure new workers that the employer will be there for them if they are injured.
  • Use existing internal communications tools such as newsletters, bulletin boards, memos, Intranet, and email to promote the program.
  • Provide everyone in the organization with two copies of the return-to-work policy and procedures – one copy for them to keep and one for them to sign showing they have read and understood the information. Keep these signed copies on file.
  • Take every opportunity to promote the importance of return to work and the company’s commitment to the new policy. Mention it informally whenever possible and ensure the policy is posted prominently.
  • Discuss the human and financial impact of workplace injury and demonstrate that the company’s return-to-work program is an employee benefit. Make it a measurable performance target.
  • Demonstrate the reality that safe and timely return to work is in the best interest of everyone. It keeps everyone at work healthy and contributing to the work effort equally.
  • Outline the responsibilities of all return-to-work partners (employer, workers, supervisors, health care providers, and WCB case workers) so everyone understands their role and what’s expected of them.
  • Take a consistent approach with each return-to-work case. Follow procedures and improve when necessary.
  • Take the program and successes to industry associations and share best practices. WCB premiums are influenced by the total claims cost of the industry, so helping other organizations improve their performance can save money.
  • Ensure that the return-to-work policy and program are regularly reviewed and kept current.

Past-present Injury Claim Information

For employers, knowing your organization’s past and present injury claim information will allow you to monitor outstanding claims, evaluate your injury prevention and return-to-work progress and track the costs associated with workplace injury.

All this claim information is available at your fingertips through MyAccount.

If you're an employer and are not registered for MyAccount, you can call the WCB (toll free) at 1-877-211-9267 to request your company’s past and present injury claim information.