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Research Highlight: Investigating how injured construction workers can get back to work quickly and safely

Nov 10, 2017 |

Work injuries cost employees, employers, and governments. So how can we make sure people get back to work as soon as they are healthy to do so, particularly in a sector with a high rate of work injuries?

School of Population and Public Health Associate Professor and Partnership for Work Health and Safety co-director Chris McLeod has been awarded a $344,000 grant by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to research this question in construction, a priority sector given its high incidence of injuries, and the fact that it is a challenging environment for accommodating work injuries, and designating who is responsible for return to work management.

“There’s almost no research in this area, that’s why this work is particularly innovative.”
Associate Professor Chris McLeod

Called ‘Improving approaches to early and sustainable return-to-work in the construction sector’, the study will stretch across four provinces over two years, using data from Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Alberta compensation boards, as well as input from employers and unions in each province.

Given the timeline of the study, its scope was restricted to the four boards with which the Partnership had a pre-existing relationship, Dr McLeod said. The research would be applicable across Canada and internationally, however, as it would look into standardized, successful practices for return to work that other boards could implement.

An ideal return to work outcome would be an injured worker returning with no impairment to the same job, for the same employer, and resuming their old duties, Dr. McLeod said, but sustainable return to work also included accommodation of the injured worker’s disability, rehabilitation, or vocational retraining.

Research has shown that work injuries have significant health and economic burdens on injured workers, Dr McLeod said, and that getting workers back to work early and successfully is the most successful strategy to reducing this overall burden.

As well, work injuries and disabilities are costly for employers, as highly trained employees are not easy to replace, and governments, since the overall sustainability of the economy is affected if a large number of the working age population are not working, Dr McLeod said.

“Return to work and minimizing work disability, keeping individuals engaged in the workforce is important on so many levels.”
Associate Professor Chris McLeod

The study began in February and will run for two years, with the initial phase involving understanding how current compensation systems provide return to work in the construction sector, Dr. McLeod said.

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