Disability management challenges employers

labour/health

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on April 14, 2010
Richard Alexander, executive director of NL Employers' Council, chats with Cathy Dormody, occupational health nurse with Newfoundland Power. - Photo By Mark Burt/Special to The Telegram.

Disability management in the workplace is one of the biggest challenges facing employers, people at a workshop in St. John's were told Tuesday.

"The purpose of today is (to) provide some advice, training and suggestions to deal with one of - if not the biggest issue - in workplaces right now. That's disability management," Newfound-land and Labrador Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander said during a break from the session.

Disability management in the workplace is one of the biggest challenges facing employers, people at a workshop in St. John's were told Tuesday.

"The purpose of today is (to) provide some advice, training and suggestions to deal with one of - if not the biggest issue - in workplaces right now. That's disability management," Newfound-land and Labrador Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander said during a break from the session.

Disability management can include an injury or illness suffered outside the workplace, as well as workplace injuries.

"Disability management looks at all those types of situations," Alexander said.

"If there was one magic bullet or silver bullet, we would have this problem fixed. But the reality is when you are dealing with injuries, whether work-related or not, there are many different facets - things that impact the success of that person getting better."

For both employers and workers, those issues can include everything from home life, the labour relations environment, access to medical care and the culture within an organization.

Alexander said workplaces in the province, with the help of the workers' compensation commisson, have improved their safety records.

"We're one of the best when it comes to our safety rate," Alexander said.

Now concentration has to be on managing disabilities.

"Regardless of what the issues are, I think everybody in this province would admit that when it comes to managing disabilities, we've got a ways to go," Alexander said.

"There's a lot that can be done in this province. ... The first thing would be understanding that we need to create a culture within organizations of trust and a culture of disability management."

He said helping and supporting workers to get back to the job is much better than having them home.

"Some employers have some very solid programs put in place. Smaller employers generally don't have the same level of resources to devote to that, and we just need a stronger focus at the workers' compensation commission, within workplaces, among unionized labour of the recognition this is a problem, and we need to do more to try to improve it," Alexander said.

Cathy Dormody, an occupational health nurse with Newfoundland Power, said her company's philosophy is to improve the process it already has and to continue educating workers and supervisors.

"My core role as the occupational health nurse is to facilitate the early-safe-return-to-work program," she said. "If someone gets injured, take care of them right away. You go through the process at the same time that you're reassuring the worker, you're reassuring the supervisor, 'We are doing everything we can to make things better.' "

While Newfoundland Power is a large employer, Dormody has advice for all workplaces, including small ones.

"I think it's really important, even if you are a small employer, to keep your employees engaged. It's really important to have an employee connected with the workplace," she said.

"Even if you don't have a lot of resources, it doesn't take a lot of time to call the employee to reassure them that when things are in place and the return-to-work plan that you've worked together with them, that you are willing to work with their physician and support them through this process."

Nobody wants to be off the job, Dormody said.

"The systems are difficult - trying to navigate through the health care system, trying to do a process they have not been exposed to before. So the more support and encouragement you can give to employees to help them through that process, the better," she said.

She said if employers are fair and consistent, their employees will value that.

"We all need help from time to time, and when you are injured it's no different. And the more support services you can give them to get them through that difficult time, the stronger your relationship will be," Dormody said.

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