Employees who have had work-related injuries, spend the first part of their recovery worrying only about recovering physically and getting back to one’s former active persona. Yet, as recovery continues forward, workers can feel fear about going back to do the same job as before, especially if the accident was a traumatic event.
Any doctor treating a patient should have a talk with the injured worker at some point, especially if the doctor notes a certain apprehension about going back to that job again. The doctor can make an initial assessment about what is going on mentally with the worker and whether there is a greater issue happening that should be addressed by a psychologist. A worker can be so worried that they will have the same accident again and be re-injured, that returning to work becomes a revolving stressful nightmare whenever the patient thinks about that accident over and over again.
Athletes, who get injured while playing, encounter this same problem as they begin returning back to playing the game after an injury. Consider a quarterback who has the opposing team’s big guy fall on the quarterback’s leg while being tackled during a game, breaking a bone (tibia, fibula) as the player awkwardly hits the ground.
The quarterback is now out for months until the bone is healed. Then the player begins the long process of getting back into shape, testing the leg every day, until finally, it is time to practice with the team. At the first sign of someone headed his way to take him down, the quarterback gets down on the ground first to avoid the hit and being re-injured again. It is a natural protective reaction, but the quarterback knows he must get past this reactive problem and think more about running and/or throwing the football instead.
Rather than thinking about the accident and injury, athletes are (usually) trained to envision themselves doing what they want to physically accomplish, especially if they have done it already at least once in their career. It is the coach’s job to help the athlete by correcting something being done the wrong way and adjusting new movements to fit the athlete’s body infrastructure and capabilities.
Workers at a manufacturing plant do not have the luxury of a coach to work with, although a visit with a psychologist would be helpful in finding out the root of the problem and overcoming it. It helps if there is a case manager available to help with issues as they come up. While it is one thing to go through the recovery of the body and the subsequent pain from the injury, the psychology of the mind must also be addressed at the same time.
Case managers and/or psychologists who have a good understanding of the worker’s industry and exactly what the worker’s job entails and asks of a worker can greatly help a worker recover from the mental fears of returning to work in the same job. In such a situation, a case worker or psychologist acts almost like a football coach who understands intimately what players must do with their bodies and minds to achieve great things on the game field or, in this case, the workplace and the job.
It is also important for recovering injured workers who return to work, that the workplace environment is positive and that others look out for the worker until it is clear the worker has fully recovered. Lending a helping hand, providing encouragement, and making the worker feel welcome in returning to work, go a long way to positive outcomes, not only for the recovering worker who may have any number of psychological issues in the first days of returning to work but also for the workplace environment as a whole.
In cases where the injury was severe enough that, medically, the worker cannot return to that job which they held before, then wherever possible, a different job can be offered to the worker. This goes a long way towards making the worker feel that the company values them well enough to keep them on, even if in another job. A designated worker could help with training the part-time injured person to the point where they become comfortable in their new role and feel ready to become full-time workers again.
Workers’ compensation can (and should) cover these areas until the worker is fully engaged at work once again, whether in the old job or a new one. Medical bills, treatments, and therapies would continue through workers’ compensation until such time as total recovery is achieved.
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