Ergonomic solutions lead to successful return to work

Returning to work after a major surgery can be stressful for an employee — especially when he or she has specialized job responsibilities and is highly motivated to return to the office. When a setback threatens recovery, employers may want to consider options to help the employee successfully return to work.

Motivated despite setbacks
A longtime energy company employee had spinal surgery to relieve numbness and pain in his left arm. The pain interfered with his ability to do a job that required him to spend the majority of the workday at a desk. Two months after surgery, he was anxious to return to work part time, hoping to gradually increase his hours until he was back full time.

His benefits examiner connected him with the Workplace Possibilities program to discuss possible accommodations to help him return to work. His employer was motivated to have him back — it had been a challenge to replace him temporarily, as his role was very specialized. The employer was happy to accommodate any schedule the employee’s doctors deemed appropriate, and agreed to an ergonomic assessment of his workstation to alleviate his discomfort.

During our initial conversation, the employee said that, while the surgery was successful, he’d begun to experience pain and numbness in his other arm and a second surgery was likely. He and his doctors were discussing treatment options for this unfortunate setback, but he was still motivated to return part time if possible.

It became even more imperative to complete the ergonomic assessment to ensure that, once the employee returned to work from the second surgery, his workstation could enhance his recovery.

Ergonomic enhancements
I found an ergonomist to evaluate the employee’s workstation, as the current setup was exacerbating his injury. She made some initial adjustments to the workstation, including monitor height and computer location. Additional equipment recommendations included an ergonomic chair, mouse, headset, keyboard tray and dual monitors to reduce neck movement, which I worked with the employer to purchase and install.

During the equipment installation, the employee had his second surgery and completed physical therapy. I kept in touch with him throughout his recovery and worked with his employer and doctors to define his return-to-work schedule.

A positive outcome
I contacted him shortly after he returned to work to see how the equipment was working for him. He was very appreciative of all the changes that had been made. Unfortunately, the keyboard tray wasn’t providing adequate leg room so he worked with the ergonomist to make some slight adjustments.

Following the minor equipment tweaks, the employee reported that everything was going well and the equipment was alleviating his discomfort. The costs of the equipment and ergonomist sessions far outweighed the employer cost to hire and train a replacement for such a valued employee with specialized knowledge.

About Kerry Donohue
As a Vocational Case Manager at Standard Insurance Company, Kerry provides vocational case management services to employees designed to facilitate effective and timely return-to-work plans that maximize an employee’s strengths while identifying cost-effective accommodations and solutions that benefit all parties.

Kerry holds a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and has been employed as a vocational case manager with The Standard for six years. Kerry has additional experience in the field of workers’ compensation and with several nonprofit agencies providing counseling and vocational assistance.

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