What does an Occupational Therapist do and how do we help someone get back to work?
So what exactly is an occupational therapist?
In general terms we assist people to be able to do the things they need and want to do. As occupational therapists who work in work rehabilitation our goal is to assist people to get back into the workforce following an injury. Some of our key principles include promotion of meaningful activity, independence in work tasks, self-management and building self-confidence. We achieve these through trying to get people back to their meaningful activity which in our case is work via a graduated return to work program, modifying the environment, modifying work tasks and taking into consideration the person’s limitations and abilities. If a person is not able to return to their previous role then we work with the client in identifying suitable roles based on their interests, skills and abilities.
In our role we perform the following return to work services:
- Workplace Assessments
- Suitable Duties Plans
- Ergonomic Assessments
- Vocational Assessments
- Functional Capacity Evaluations
- Home Assessments
- Medico legal Assessments
How does an occupational therapist help people get back to work?
Initially we complete a workplace assessment with the employee and either their employer or host employer (if their employer does not have suitable duties available) in order to gain information regarding the employee’s symptoms, treatment, pre-injury role and whether there are suitable duties available. If there are duties available within the client’s restrictions then a suitable duties plan is developed.
Our role then is to monitor how the client progresses and to liaise with the employer, employee and insurance company to discuss appropriate upgrades and to discuss any issues that may arise such as difficulties with completing duties or hours, non-attendance, strategies to manage symptoms while at work.
So what happens when an employee is not able to return to their previous role? There are cases where a client may have been in a heavy industry such as mining, building, construction, nursing and their treating doctor has indicated that they are no longer able to go back to that industry due to risk of re-injury, inability to complete heavy tasks or even due to psychological reasons. This can be a daunting prospect for anyone to face and we are able to assist with discussing alternative job options and whether they would be suitable given their abilities, limitations, previous work history, skills and qualifications. We are able to brainstorm and discuss various options with the client and then maybe even place them in host employment.
We are also able to assist with determining what a person’s physical limitations and abilities are prior to commencing a return to work plan through a functional capacity evaluation. This is a physical assessment which looks at functional tasks such as squatting, kneeling, overhead reaching, forward reaching and lifting capacities. This assists us in determining safe limits for the employee and what duties may be within their capacities.
For someone who is not yet ready to get back into the workforce we can also assist with promoting independence, self-management and assistance with tasks at home (Activities of Daily Living) such as showering, dressing, laundry, cooking or cleaning through use of aids, equipment, techniques and services. From my experience, sometimes if a person is not managing with basic tasks around the home they are not yet ready to return to work duties.
As an occupational therapist, our role is to integrate a person’s physical abilities and limitations with their work environment and work tasks to facilitate a safe return to work. We are able to provide recommendations on how to modify tasks and the work environment (e.g. performing tasks seated, using correct manual handling techniques, workstation setups, taking breaks, alternating tasks) when assisting with return to work or other activities e.g. tasks at home.
If you would like more information about the types of services that Advantage Injury Management Services or our occupational therapists can complete for you, then refer to our services page or simply contact us by phone or email!