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Creating a “safe space” for injured workers returning to the job is a concept deserving a spotlight.
A Safe Space
The idea is loaded with an
abundance of promise for implementing
workers’ compensation in the best
way possible. Within the concept’s
core resides a desire to focus on
meeting injured workers’ needs while
improving employers’ claims results.
And it’s not just a philosophical
concept. There is a practical, established
strategy behind it. One that can help
take risk out of hiring new workers in
a U.S. economy that continues to add
jobs. It can help remove the fear that
sometimes hinders established workers
with injuries from returning to the job
as early as possible.
The idea of creating a “safe space”
came my way from Judie Tsanopoulos,
director of workers’ comp and loss
control at St. Joseph Health.
Judie is a consummate workers’
comp practitioner. Over the years I’ve
spoken with her, I’ve noticed that she
consistently works to improve every
corner of her workers’ comp program,
applying creativity, elbow grease and
Her discussion of creating a safe
space is really about the physical
demands analysis St. Joe’s conducts for
each work role. It applies an essential
functions review to determine whether
returning injured workers are capable
of a job’s physical demands.
This is nothing new. It’s known that
a job analysis based on the essential
functions of work roles reduces losses.
While it’s particularly useful for
eliminating injuries among the newly
hired, who are most prone to experience
accidents, it also helps established
workers safely return post injury.
But the practice is commonly
discussed in terms that represent the
employers’ viewpoint and interest in
reducing claims expense.
By reframing it as an opportunity
to give injured workers safe space
for recovering while they transition
back into their jobs, the conversation
shifts to accentuate a caring role. It
transforms the concept into one that
recognizes the worker’s needs.
It acknowledges that it is common
for workers to fear returning to work
and doesn’t conveniently ignore that
Returning workers may be
overprotective of their bodies. They
may fear tasks they routinely handled in
the past; tasks that defined their roles.
That may make them less eager to
cooperate with return-to-work plans.
Providing a safe space is about
helping workers learn that they’re
progressing in their recovery. It helps
build their confidence.
It’s a strategy that helps workers
appreciate that their employer cares.
It also provides something for the
workers’ comp manager.
Judie said it’s the kind of effort that
has resulted in formerly injured workers
hugging her when she walks through
a St. Joseph hospital. She is the first
to admit that hugs are not the typical
greeting for a workers’ comp director. &
ROBERTO CENICEROS is senior editor at
Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National
Workers’ Compensation and Disability
Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at
BY ROBERTO CENICEROS