A workplace injury can be devastating on a number of levels. First of all, the physical injury you have endured can cause you to suffer chronic pain or the inability to do the job you love or have been trained to do.
Suffering a workplace injury, no matter how small, can set you back – but many people who are injured on the job choose to cut their convalescence short to get back to work as soon as they can.
Is that a good idea? How do you know you are ready? Here are some tips for returning to the workplace after a workplace injury.
Get a Clean Bill of Health from Your Doctor
As badly as you may want to just get back to work, you may not be as ready as you think. Healing can take a long time, and going back to the workplace too soon may do you more harm than good. So be sure to get your doctor’s approval before returning to work.
When you do get that OK, be sure to ask your doctor to sign any letters or forms you may need to officially excuse you from certain activities until you are well enough to resume your job. Keep a copy of this medical paperwork (some call it a medical profile), and share a copy of it with your work’s medical or human resources department.
Your boss doesn’t have to know every detail about your health – that’s private and personal medical information – but they should know enough about what you can do and what you cannot do in your job.
Ask for Accommodations
Depending on the injury, you may be able to get back to work right away, or you might require certain temporary or permanent accommodations. Remember, any accommodations you ask for are to help you do your job better and so that you can contribute to your organization’s bottom line or mission.
If you have suffered an orthopedic (bone or joint) injury, you may require a chair with wheels or enough office space to be able to wheel around your scooter until you are healed. Older buildings may not be handicapped-accessible, however, so you may have to work on the first floor of your building. Ask for special parking (your doctor can help you apply for a temporary or permanent handicapped tag) or handicapped access.
If you suffer from a chronic injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome, you may require an ergonomic keyboard or mouse. Sitting too long might be painful for you if you have neuropathy, so a standing desk may help you be productive rather than sitting all day.
Ask, and often you shall receive – especially if it makes you more productive.
Take Charge of Your Own Situation
You might not feel right asking for every accommodation you need to help you recover or be more comfortable, so instead of asking, simply do it!
Set goals for yourself: If you drive a truck, plan to take a break every hour or so. Do your physical therapy exercises during a quick bathroom break, or pull out your stretch band at your desk to firm up the injured area. If you need to stretch your legs, walk over to your co-worker to talk instead of sending an email.
Ask Others for Help
Let a few co-workers know that you may need help for anything from carrying your coffee cup to a meeting to being lifted into a high tractor or truck cab. They will be happy to help, and you will be happy to return the favor if it’s ever their turn to ask.
Be Prepared for Lots of Questions – or Not
Depending on where you work, you may be bombarded with lots of questions about your injury. Some workplaces – and supervisors – may be fine with that. But others may ask you to not talk about the specifics of your workplace injury, especially if it involves any sort of litigation or ongoing investigation.
You may be asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, or you may be asked to testify before a safety panel. Whatever the situation is, be prepared for what you will say or will not say, and understand the impact that will have.
There May Be Changes in Your Daily Job
If you suffered a minor workplace injury, you will likely be able to get back to work as usual. But what if your injury prevents you from continuing to do your job?
You may need to be reclassified into another career field, or take a more administrative approach to your career. For example, an auto mechanic might have to switch to customer service or an inspector role; a dancer with a career-ending injury might have to teach, choreograph, or go into fundraising and development for your organization.
In many cases, your company will provide you the training and professional development you need to switch to another area of the company, or to a different but related role.
Communicate All of Your Concerns
You might have a great deal of pain, so you may not want to go back to the same position you had before. You may even be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the injury.
Explain all of this to your supervisor, or speak with your human resources department about your concerns and triggers. Some workplace injuries can be devastating – not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically – especially in high-risk fields like law enforcement, sports, and construction.
If you are suffering in ways other than medically, consider reaching out to your company’s employee assistance program for a referral to a life coach or mental health professional.
Who Can Help Me After a Workplace Injury?
Whether you were injured in an automobile accident while working or suffered another type of workplace injury, we can help and want what is best for you. We look forward to helping you heal so you can enjoy an active, productive lifestyle again.