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Occupational rehabilitation in the food manufacturing industry

Image courtesy of Greencore Group

Information and case studies

Occupational rehabilitation - sometimes referred to as managing sickness absence and return to work (or managing attendance) - has become an essential part of running an efficient business. Long-term sickness absence (often defined as 4 weeks or more):

But this need not be the case

Considerable benefits can be delivered from working in partnership with employees and Trade Union representatives when managing sickness absence and return to work. In particular, organisations that have implemented effective management programmes have:

One manufacturing company reduced musculoskeletal disorders by 90% and through that improved employee wellbeing as well as saving £0.5 million in the first year of the programme alone.

The key issues in managing sickness absence and return to work are:

For companies without an existing rehabilitation scheme, putting one in place is not difficult. The essential elements are to ensure:

Companies with existing rehabilitation schemes should consider 'upgrading' their scheme to a higher level. For example a 'passive' scheme (eg responding to a doctor's note stating 'Fit for light duties' etc) could be upgraded to an 'active' scheme where there is ongoing medical assessment from Day 1 and treatment such as physiotherapy is provided. 

Active schemes are more common in larger companies with Occupational Health Departments but can also be put in place in smaller organisations. More advanced schemes may pay for additional medical treatment such as MRI scans in order to facilitate earlier diagnoses and a speedier return to work. An active rehabilitation policy helps to demonstrate the positive role occupational health can provide, and helps build trust in the system among employees. 

Rehabilitation should be:

Some insurance companies with Occupational Health Advisers offer rehabilitation packages as part of their Employer's Liability Insurance. These can reduce the costs of injuries and accidents by helping employees return to work sooner.  This can reduce insurance premiums, compensation payments and hidden costs such as loss of production, retraining, overtime and recruiting additional staff.

The following case studies have been provided by major food companies and an insurance company. The summary table is helpful in targeting a particular case study of interest. The layout and detail of the case studies vary, however they all show good practice and some also indicate how things could have been done better. But all the case studies clearly demonstrate the benefits of having a good Rehabilitation programme in place.

Further guidance:

Acknowledgements:  The Food Manufacture H&S Forum (Occupational Health Sub-Committee) which prepared the above guidance, is grateful for the assistance of these organisations in the preparation of the case studies:

Updated 2020-12-16