Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) remain a major occupational health problem in industrialized countries. The consequences of work disability place a heavy burden not only on workers and their families, but also on organizations. While a number of studies on work disability underscore the important role of supervisors in various return-to-work (RTW) programs, few have focused specifically on their roles, responsibilities, and actions in facilitating the reintegration of workers who have sustained a work-related musculoskeletal injury.
The general objective of this study was to propose possible courses of action for supervisors during the process aimed at the sustainable RTW of workers following a work-related MSD, and to verify their applicability in various organizational contexts and industry sectors in Québec.
Two general recommendations derive from this study:
- First, it appears essential that organizations implement RTW policies and procedures. The clear formalization of such policies and procedures, with specific roles and responsibilities for all actors or departments involved in the RTW process, should reduce conflictual or ambiguous situations for supervisors, ensure that the courses of action align with the organizational context, and provide information on the resources available in the organization. RTW policies and procedures reflect the organizational culture and provide a reference point regarding the actions to be taken.
- Second, training RTW actors in the actions expected of them and the favourable attitudes they should adopt in their interactions with workers constitutes a complementary action for a successful and sustainable RTW.
The results of the IRSST’S study highlight the need for training, taking into account the supervisor’s constraints. Analysis of these constraints could be facilitated by analyzing the work activity in order to provide supervisors with better guidance when they are planning and following up on the implementation of the RTW solutions. Developing tools for identifying appropriate accommodations and encouraging participation in suitable training courses on various aspects of the RTW (identifying and solving RTW problems and ways of approaching workers who have sustained a work-related injury) appear to be organizational strategies that allow supervisors to accumulate RTW experiences.
However, the implementation of these recommendations depends largely on the organizational context and characteristics (e.g. size of the organization). For example, in small organizations, other ways of training supervisors could be envisaged making them operational in the broader context (through laws, forums for inter-organization dialogue, etc.).