Suffering a serious injury at work can be debilitating on multiple levels. First off, injured workers must learn to cope with physical pain. This process may entail rehab sessions, pharmaceuticals, or the use of mobility aids such as crutches or a wheelchair. Medical appointments, phone tag with WCB, and complicated forms merely add to the misery. All this pain and discomfort combined with a serious interruption of life is likely to be frustrating in the extreme.
And yet, as physically painful as disability often is, the psychological pain is often far worse. It’s common for injured workers, for example, to experience acute embarrassment or regret following an incident. Anger and resentment toward a coworker or supervisor also tend to well up. Fear of job-loss or financial ruin is all too common as well. And in more extreme cases, a psychological injury such as PTSD can take hold.
The chain reaction triggered by these unfortunate events can have catastrophic effects on self-esteem, family life, career plans, and personal finances. Stuck at home, sedentary and isolated, injured workers tend to gain weight and lose interest in life. As the days and weeks tick by, an overwhelming sense of despair can paralyze even the most robust individuals, the aftermath of an injury leading to long-term or even permanent disability.
Break the vicious cycle
Recovery from disability largely depends on the actions, or inactions, immediately following a workplace incident. Unfortunately many employers lack a proper disability management policy, meaning that work injuries are often juggled ad hoc. In a perfect world, upon notification of injury, your employer would provide an ‘injured worker’ package complete with the proper forms to share with your doctor. The injured worker package would outline all the steps to follow and include the company’s policy on modified work and other expectations.
However, the cold reality is that workers most often find themselves on an island hunting for answers. And while this ambiguity can pose an obstacle to recovery, it doesn’t have to derail the process. In such cases the injured worker is forced to take charge of their recovery by assuming a leadership role.
Immediately following an injury, follow these steps:
- Go to first aid for treatment
- Notify your manager/supervisor
- Obtain an Injured Worker package from your manager. Take the IW package with you to your healthcare provider if you require further medical attention. Absent an IW package, ask your supervisor or an HR/HSE manager for a Fitness-for-Work form, or download here. This form is to be completed by your doctor and details any work restrictions.
- Contact WCB at www.wcb.ab.ca/claims/report-an-injury/for-workers.html to report your injury and to establish a claim.
- Following your appointment, return your completed Fitness-for-Work form to your manager for discussion.
Same day or next shift
- Meet with your manager
- Review the completed Fitness-for-Work form
- Discuss modified duties and work together to develop a Recover-at- Work plan
- Participate in treatment recommended by your healthcare provider
- Participate in your Recover-At-Work or Return-to-Work plan
- Meet with your supervisor weekly to discuss your progress, changes in your condition, or any other concerns related to your recovery
- Follow up with WCB to discuss your progress
- Stay close to your employer. If you’re at home your supervisor should be reaching out weekly or biweekly. If not, take initiative by reaching out regularly. Also visit the workplace and stay connected however possible.
- Be proactive about modified duties. Don’t wait for your boss to make suggestions. Instead, ponder how this setback could be transformed into an opportunity for growth and advancement. For instance, have you thought about getting off the tools and into management? What courses or training would you need to make that jump? Do the research.
- Refuse to worry about job security. Disability isn’t a legally valid cause for dismissal. Your position isn’t going anywhere.
- Keep the peace with your WCB case worker. Dealing with WCB can be frustrating, but an attitude of diplomacy will serve you well. Remember, use honey not vinegar.
- Keep moving. Remain sedentary long enough and you’ll feel the onset of pain, disability or no disability. With respect to rehab, remember that pain does not necessarily equate to damage. Of course, only you know your body, so let your instincts guide you. Just know, if you baby yourself, or expect the rehab process to be pain-free, you’re not doing yourself any favors.