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A healthy return - good practice guide to rehabilitating people at work

December 2008

The aim of the UK Institution of Occupational Safety and Health new guide A healthy return - good practice guide to rehabilitating people at work is to give occupational safety and health practitioners a grounding in rehabilitation, and to provide them with practical support. Others, including managers and human resources personnel, will also find it useful.

The guide contains:

'A healthy return' is only intended as an introductory text to rehabilitation, with references to further reading and information sources, and not as a definitive guide to the subject.

Recent developments

In the UK, there's been a growing interest in the benefits that rehabilitation can bring and, in recent years, government and policy-makers have been actively promoting it.

First, the government's Revitalising health and safety strategy, launched in 2000, included national targets for improving health and safety by 2010:

The strategy also included an intention to strengthen retention and rehabilitation services. Second, one of the core aims of the Health and Safety Commission's 10-year strategy (2000-2010) is to help people who are, or have been, ill or injured return to work. Third, the Department for Work and Pensions published a framework for vocational rehabilitation in 2004. This was followed in 2006 by Health, work and well-being, a national strategy and 'charter' for the health and wellbeing of working age people. In the same year, Professor Dame Carol Black was appointed the first National Director for Work and Health.

Being in work

Being in work has considerable benefits, not just for individuals but also for their families and for the communities in which they live. We know that being in work is generally good for people's health and wellbeing, and that being out of work leads to poorer health and increases health inequalities. Helping people to remain in or quickly return to work when health conditions arise is therefore important. With changing demographics, it is not just important for individuals, but essential if we are to create a sustainable workforce for the dynamic economy that supports an increasingly ageing population.

Employers can help employees in a number of ways: protect their health and wellbeing and make sure that the huge progress made in reducing work-related illness and injury continues; wherever possible, help them remain in work when health conditions arise by providing support and making reasonable adjustments; help those who have been absent to return to appropriate work that they can perform without risk; and to use the workplace as an opportunity to help improve employees' general health and wellbeing.

This requires a co-ordinated approach, with the focus on producing the best outcome for the individual. Employers, occupational health and other healthcare professionals, trade unions, HR professionals, line managers and occupational safety and health practitioners must all work together, combining their respective skills and experience to create a powerful multidisciplinary team. Within such a team, the occupational safety and health practitioner has the opportunity to use the knowledge and experience they have gained in their traditional role to help make sure that reasonable adjustments are identified which are both appropriate and without risk; to support and ensure the implementation of such adjustments; and to monitor their ongoing impact and effectiveness.

This guide not only helps to identify the opportunities for occupational safety and health practitioners to contribute to the broader health and work agenda, but is also a valuable source of advice and guidance for all those involved in this area.

IOSH is to be congratulated on its initiative, which is an excellent example of taking definitive action to bring about change and help make a difference to the lives of working age people.

A healthy return - good practice guide to rehabilitating people at work
Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, 2008, 33 pages