Getting Back to Work With Back Pain
According to the Health and Safety Executive, the longer someone stays off work, the less likely they are to return, and his or her back pain can be made worse by the lack of activity, and by the anxiety and stress. Returning to work as soon as possible, even if it is only part-time, will help to speed recovery and relieve pain by keeping people active and moving. It can also help distract them from the pain, and can reduce future absences too. The return to work can be made easier by careful planning and preparation by both employer and employee.
Keeping In TouchIt is important for employers and employees to keep in touch with each other during sick leave. This will make the step back to work easier and reduce anxiety for the employee because he or she will know what to expect, and will help the employer to prepare for the return, as well as plan workloads and deadlines for other members of staff. Staying in contact with the employee’s doctor and/or physiotherapist can also help both employer and employee, and the doctor can be a good source of advice.
Discussing ChangesEmployers have a responsibility to look after their employees, and will need to carry out a return to work risk assessment after employees come back to work following back pain or injury. It is important for employers and employees to discuss any changes that need to be made to the workplace to help and support the individual with the back pain. This could include changes to desks and chairs (see ‘Setting Up Your Desk and Chair to Prevent Back Pain’), the addition of specialist equipment, for example lifting and handling aids, or changes to work processes. It could also include training on how to sit, stand and lift – this could be useful for all members of staff, not just the person with back pain.
If the back pain is because of a work injury, changes in the workplace could not only help the injured person but also help prevent other colleagues from suffering the same injury.
Some workplaces have in-house doctors, physiotherapists and health and safety advisors, and these experts should be involved in discussions over changes too.
Planning the Return to WorkCreating a plan will help employees return to work. This plan should include goals of when he or she should be back to doing his or her job fully – this could be within days or weeks – and should focus on what the employee can do rather than what they can’t do.
The plan should include steps back to full return – perhaps through a gradual increase in hours, longer breaks, longer deadlines, a reduced workload, the chance to work from home or work in a different location, or even a transfer to a less demanding job for a while. People with back pain can become very anxious about the pain and what they can do, and this gradual return to work can help raise their confidence in how they can cope with the pain. The overall goal is always a return to normal duties.