Speech at Launch of Return to Work Programme
Minister of State Sam Tan, Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre
Ms Kala Anandarajah
Deputy Chairperson of Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Mr Melvin Yong
Director (Tripartism), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC),
Mr Edwin Lye
Group Director, Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF),
Representatives from our hospital partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you to launch the Return to Work (RTW) Programme.
Why RTW is important
- In the field of workplace safety and health, all the tripartite partners have committed to adopt and implement the Vision Zero mindset - that all workplace injuries and ill-health are preventable. But sometimes, work injuries can still happen. And when it does, it affects not just the workers, but also their families and employers. Our immediate priority must be to ensure that proper medical care is given to the injured workers. When their condition stabilises, it is important to then consider how we can help facilitate their return to work journey as quickly as possible.
- Many people think injured workers must be off work to recover and that being injured is a barrier to returning to work. That need not be the case. Depending on the nature of injury, injured workers do not have to wait for complete recovery before returning to work. As long as they are medically stabilised, work can be part of the recovery process. Work modifications can also be made to accommodate the injured workers’ functional capacity.
- In fact, long periods of work absence can have a negative impact on the health and well-being of workers. It can lead to adverse physical, psychological, social and financial effects, which worsen with each passing day. Furthermore, international studies have shown that the longer someone is off work, the less likely they will ever return. I remember during a visit to Australia last year, we learnt that if a worker is 20 days off work, he has a 70% chance of returning. But if he is 70 days off work, his chance of returning dropped to 35%.
Difficulties faced in RTW
- However, returning to work is not always easy. In a 2014 study by the WSH Institute covering about 400 injured local workers, 8 in 10 faced some difficulties in returning to work. About 2 in 5 who returned to work indicated they felt tired easily at work and had difficulty performing work at previous standards. 1 in 4 feared that certain work activities would lead to harm.
- We can do more to help our injured workers recover and return to work. A Tan Tock Seng Hospital study showed that having a RTW case manager assigned to the injured worker to help in his rehabilitation and return to work process can improve RTW outcomes. The study found that injured employees with access to a RTW case manager returned to work on average 10 days earlier than those without. It demonstrated that providing the right services and support to the worker and employer as early as possible following a workplace injury is critical to improving recovery and return to work outcomes.
RTW case management is not new
- Some insurers, such as Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, are already offering RTW case management services to their insured clients. Recently, one of their clients had an experienced worker, a 50-year-old man who had injured his left shoulder and lower back after he slipped and fell in the workplace. Although the worker was certified fit to return to light duties after treatment, his employer was unsure of the type of light duties the worker could handle. As a result, the worker was asked to utilise his annual leave to continue prolonged rest at home as the employer did not want to risk injuring the worker.
- After learning of the case, Berkshire Hathaway assigned an RTW Case Manager who visited the worksite to understand the worker’s job demands and work environment. The Case Manager then liaised with the treating doctor to understand the worker’s medical condition, status of rehabilitation or intervention plans and functional recovery. Together with the doctor, the Case Manager worked out a RTW plan for the worker to return to work in stages based on the progress of his functional ability. The employer was advised to modify the worker’s duties to accommodate his functional capacity and aid the recovery process.
- This intervention benefitted both the injured worker and his employer. The worker had more confidence in returning to work, which raised his self-esteem and reduced isolation during the recovery process. By returning to work earlier, he also minimised disruption to his earnings. More importantly, it gave him a sense of purpose which improved his mental well-being. The employer, on the other hand, was assured that there was no risk of re-injury to the worker and was able to retain the services of the experienced worker.
Return to Work Programme
- We want more injured workers to benefit from such RTW services. To increase its accessibility, we have partnered our 7 public hospitals to roll out Return to Work (RTW) Programmes in their hospitals progressively over the next 12 months. Tan Tock Seng Hospital was the first to offer this service starting from 25th September 2017. In January 2018, Singapore General Hospital will come on board. This will be followed by National University Hospital, Changi General Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in April 2018 and by end 2018, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Seng Kang General Hospital will also have RTW clinical services in place.
- The RTW Programme’s primary objective is to provide early intervention to ensure that action is taken to support injured workers and employers in realising the health benefits of working, to support recovery for injured workers and to facilitate their return to work.
- This is done through a customised service approach with the assignment of a RTW Coordinator who will take an injured-worker centric approach in early intervention and support. The RTW Coordinator will consider the specific circumstances of the injured worker and employer to develop a plan, in consultation with medical professionals, to support faster recovery and return to work.
MOM Support for RTW Programme
- The RTW Coordinator plays a key role in the transition of the injured worker from the hospital back to the workplace. Hence, MOM and the WSH Council will provide funding to the hospitals to train allied healthcare professionals to become RTW Coordinators. About 40 allied healthcare professionals will be trained in the next 2 years, with half of them attaining international certification by 2020.
- We will also support employers who participate in the RTW Programme. Bulk of the expenses related to the RTW Programme, such as charges for case management, functional capacity evaluation and worksite assessment for purposes of rehabilitation are already claimable under WICA. This is part of the medical expenses coverage of up to $36,000 stipulated under WICA. But there may be a need for employers to incur expenses to undertake job re-design, workplace modifications and purchases of equipment/tool to support the injured worker. Such expenses are currently not claimable under WICA.
- A new RTW Grant of $500,000 will therefore be established to support companies who participate in the RTW programme. To be managed by the WSH Council, there are 2 components of the Grant. One, employers can claim up to an additional $7,000 per RTW worker for RTW-services if the total medical expenses exceed the current limit of $36,000. Two, expenses related to workplace adjustments which are not claimable under WICA can be supported through the RTW Grant. Employers can claim up to 90% of the total cost subject to a cap of $1,000 per RTW worker.
- Even as we strive to prevent all injuries and ill-health at the workplace, incidents can still happen. Other than ensuring that the injured receives fair compensation, it is important that we do what we can to help workers return to work after an injury. With our rapid ageing population and shrinking labour supply, preventing work disability and reintegrating injured employees back to work after a work injury, can preserve and enhance the productive capacity of our workforce.
- To be successful, the RTW programme will require the cooperation of all parties. Doctors need to work with the RTW Coordinators to formulate a recovery and RTW plan. Employers need to create an inclusive environment for workers, and be ready to accept and accommodate injured workers back to their workplaces. Unions can play a role too by encouraging workers to be open to changes in their job scope and be ready to adapt. Injured workers also play a critical role. They need to stay positive and motivated, and be active participants in the return to work process.
- Let us all work together to support our injured workers in their recovery and return to work journey.
- Thank you.