Return to Work Policy & Risk Assessment Template

Identify the hazards.

This is the most important aspect of your risk assessment. A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and think about potential hazards. When you work in the same place every day, it is easy to overlook hazards. Follow these tips to help identify the ones that matter:

  • Take account of non-routine operations, such as maintenance or cleaning operations.
  • Think about long-term hazards to health, such as exposure to harmful substances.
  • Review data sheets and manufacturers’ instructions for chemicals and equipment—they can help explain hazards.
  • Look back at your accident and ill-health records to identify less obvious hazards.
  • Think about who might be harmed and how.

Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have ideas on how to control risks. For each hazard, be clear about who might be harmed—it will help you identify the best way of controlling the risk. This doesn’t mean listing each person. Identify groups of people, such as employees or passers-by.

  • Identify how people or groups may be harmed and what type of injuries may occur. Think about people not in the workplace all the time, such as visitors or contractors.
  • Include people with disabilities, contractors or members of the public. Remember that some workers may have particular needs, such as young employees or expectant mothers.
  • Evaluate the risks and decide on precaution.

Risk is a part of everyday life—it is impossible to eliminate each one. However, be sure you understand the main risks and how to manage them responsibly. Generally, you must to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. If possible, eliminate the risk altogether. If this is not possible, you must determine how to control the risk so that harm is unlikely. Some practical steps you could take include finding safer alternatives to current work practices, reducing exposure to a hazard and consulting with workers to ensure their health and safety.

Record your significant findings.

Make a record of your significant findings—the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what processes you have in place to control the risks. A risk assessment should be able to demonstrate that:

  • A proper check was made and you involved your employees or their representatives.
  • You considered who might be affected and involved your employees in the process.
  • You dealt with all major hazards. The precautions are reasonable and the remaining risk is low.
  • Review your assessment periodically and update when necessary.

Few workplaces stay the same. Eventually, you will bring in new equipment, substances or procedures that could lead to new hazards. Review your risk assessment on an ongoing basis, and ask yourself:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there improvements you still need to make?
  • Have your workers spotted a problem?
  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

Special Considerations for Return to Work Risk Assessments

Although general risk assessments allow your organisation to prioritise the mitigation and elimination of workplace hazards that help protect the ‘average employee’, creating a return to work risk assessment is unique in the fact that no employee returning to work is truly the same. Indeed, employees that take part in a return to work programme could be involved due to a range of medical conditions and have widely differing recovery processes.

Whether it be a mental health condition, medical procedure, severe injury or long-term physical ailment, it’s crucial for your organisation to establish a return to work risk assessment that helps ensure employees have a smooth recovery and transition properly back into the workplace. Without an effective assessment of return to work-related risks, your business could suffer from additional costs, lost productivity, increased absenteeism and a damaged reputation.

Consider the following guidance when creating your individualised return to work risk assessment for an employee:

Planning the Return to Work Procedure

Implementing a proper plan of action for employees returning to work is a major component in reducing future risks. Be sure to generate a detailed procedure with the employee, HR team and occupational health team (if necessary) that addresses the following risk-related components:

  • Ensure the plan is individualised to the employee’s medical condition, taking into account any special considerations.
  • Establish a sense of flexibility in the return to work plan, in the event that something doesn’t go as expected.
  • Involve multiple teams or departments in the planning process (employee, manager, HR and occupational safety and health teams) to ensure everyone involved fully understands the course of action.
  • Document each step of the process for future reference.
  • Holding Return to Work Meetings

Throughout the return to work process, it’s important that regular meetings take place between all stakeholders involved (eg the employee, manager, HR team and occupational safety and health team) to discuss any progress, changes or unexpected issues. Meetings should take into account these risk-related concerns:

  • Review the return to work process every week (or bi-weekly) to ensure it is still effective.
  • Be sure that the employee is receiving proper workplace accommodations and support.
  • Document each meeting and make changes as necessary.
  • Having a Return to Work Policy

While each return to work situation is different, your organisation should have policies in place to establish a general framework and set of expectations for your return to work programme. You may want to consider creating several policies to address different medical condition subcategories. For example, it could beneficial to have a separate policy for conditions that will require ongoing treatment or have the potential to fluctuate over time.

Continuing Success After the Employee Returns to Work

Even after the employee returns to the workplace and seems to have fully recovered or transitioned successfully, the potential for risk continues. Be sure that your assessment addresses the following concerns to reduce future risk:

  • Allow the employee to adjust their work schedule or use a phased approach upon their return.
  • Continue to offer return to work-related support and resources even after the employee has recovered.
  • Be sure to discuss any potential long-term issues or concerns the employee may have after returning.

Use this risk assessment template to establish a framework for identifying, mitigating and potentially eliminating return to work-related risks within your organisation. Customise to fit your specific business needs.

Use this sample Return to Work programme to help employees return to work after an injury. Customise to fit your own specific needs.

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