Handbook Extract: Assessing the current RTW system

RTWMatters team

The best way to begin improving an organisation’s injury management system is to take a good look at the processes currently in use.

The information in this article is from the Return to Work Matters Workplace Systems Handbook, under the "Assessing the current RTW system" chapter. The complete handbook is available in PDF and online format for all Return to Work Matters subscribers.

There are several methods for ‘mapping’ a RTW system:

Informal audit
Formal audit (CBDMA)
Surveys / "Toolbox talks"

The most suitable method (or combination of methods) for system assessment will vary from organisation to organisation

  • a large organisation may use a formal audit and employee surveys
  • a small organisation may use an informal audit and “toolbox talks”.

Whatever means are used to assess the ways work injuries are managed, multiple measures should be combined to gather a complete picture rather than rely on one measure of information alone.
The information collected during the auditing process will inform changes to the RTW system and is also useful in making the business case for best practice injury management.

Formal audit (CBDMA)

Formal audits are useful for larger organisations. Formal audits make use of an auditing tool / program, for example, the internationally recognised CBDMA. 

The Consensus Based Disability Management Audit (CBDMA) is a well regarded internationally used tool that can be used by organisations as:

  • An evaluative tool, to determine current disability management program performance;
  • A corrective tool, to establish where program deficiencies are, highlighting remedial actions required; and
  • A program promotion tool, foregrounding disability management concepts for workers and demonstrating management's commitment to best practice.

Data is collected with three distinct question types: consensus questions, evidence questions, and survey or interview questions.

  1. Consensus:

    Consensus questions are collaborative and subjective in nature, and aimed at teasing out information – like employee beliefs and opinions – that numerical data cannot represent. There are 84 consensus questions and they are answered as a group, during a meeting of equal numbers of management and worker representatives. Participants are expected to reach some agreement on how to respond to each of these questions. The auditor convenes the meeting, asks the questions and acts as a facilitator.

  2. Evidence

    Evidence questions are answered by the auditors only and provide a more objective approach to the analysis. They examine the actual disability management practices and procedures used in the workplace.
    Evidence questions are about fact-finding. The auditors look at workplace policy and procedure documents, case files, and other pertinent documentation. There are 85 evidence questions in the audit.

  3. Survey / Interview

    Auditors use survey/interview questions to gather data from individual workers and managers. These questions assist the auditor to assess the employees' and managers' perceptions of the workplace's disability management approach. There are 11 survey/interview questions in the audit and a representative sample of the workforce provides input.
    Using the data collected via these three methods, employer strengths and weaknesses are identified, analysed and reported.

The organisation is then provided with a list of clear, ‘next-step’ recommendations on how to improve injury management outcomes.

Informal audit

An informal audit uses a series of ad hoc measures to assess your return to work system. 

An informal audit of the current system can be completed by:

  1. Analysing the financial costs;
  2. Understanding the most common injuries; and
  3. Obtaining feedback from employees, supervisors and managers about the current system, as well as their ideas for improving it.

The organisation may already collect information that can be used to understand whether work disability is a problem. 

Things to look out for include:

  • High levels of work absence;
  • Slow reporting of injuries; and
  • The average time off work for illness / injury compared to other organisations, or other sites within the same organization.

Interviewing employees who have sustained an injury, interviewing their supervisors and interviewing key managers can highlight areas of concern. 

Ask about:

  • The process around initial injury reporting;
  • The process for obtaining medical treatment;
  • Approaches to return to work; and
  • Support with return to work duties.


Staff interviews can yield crucial information about the systems (or lack of systems) currently in operation.

Survey / "Toolbox talks"

Many organsiations will have pre-exisitng channels for acquiring employee feedback and encouraging participation. 

Take advantage of the information you’ve already got, and use pre-existing channels to ask for feedback on the injury management system.

  1. Using your own surveys

    If your organisation already conducts employee surveys, these may provide information about how the site measures up in terms of workplace culture.

  2. "Toolbox talks"

    In areas with relatively few employees, it may be appropriate to explore work injury management issues in small groups. 
    For example, routine “toolbox talks” can be an opportunity to inquire about RTW management. Similarly, managers’ meetings can be used to explore potential issues for this group.


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